on Nov 2, 2011
I posted this to Google+ a few days ago, but I want to expand my thoughts on that.
It’s amazing how quickly Netflix has re-created the television sensation of “a thousand channels, and nothing’s on”. I’m finding myself less and less interested in anything not available for instant play. It just seems absurd to have to pick out a movie to watch four days ahead of time. It’s sad to hit Friday movie night and realize your big-budget popcorn flick has gotten caught in the depths of the mail system, and will arrive on Monday when nobody has time to watch it.
I find it interesting that media companies even care about this distinction. It’s not like they gain some benefit for having their discs pass through the mail system. If they want to throttle the number of premium titles you can watch in a month (which is what the DVD mail system accomplishes) then why not simply re-create that system or allowance for streaming digital?
Things got considerably worse two months ago when they announced that Starz Play movies would be pulled from Netflix. They weren’t the best movies, but they were better than a lot of the dreck that’s available for streaming. At the time, Netflix claimed they would use the money they were paying for Starz content to buy other, new content. It sounded good, although in the last two months the number of new movies added to streaming has been very small, and a lot of them have been absolute trash. A lot of them are B-movies (not cult classic B-movies, but just random no-name B-movies) and terrible knockoff titles. If they’re thinking of adding new content to replace the Starz Play stuff, they’re off to a horrible start.
Starz play pulled their content because they felt it was undervalued. Fine, but now you’re making nothing from it, genius. The only way this move makes sense is if they’re gearing up to offer their content through some other streaming service, one which would ostensibly give them a bigger cut of the proceeds.
This is what I’m really afraid of. Right now I’m aware of three major players in the big-media streaming content business: Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon Streaming. This is only going to get worse. You thought it was annoying to pay your cable bill and internet bill every month? Just wait until you’re paying for internet, cable, and a half dozen different content services because none of them are willing to work together.
I think these media companies are still stuck in an Old Media mindset. This behavior will hurt them and annoy consumers in the long term. Their reliance on DVD’s is really strange. They act like making their content scarce and difficult to obtain will elevate its value. In reality, this is nothing more than a very simple exercise in market stratification. When the movie opens, you get all the people who are willing to pay $20 to see it in a theater. After a few weeks you grab the people willing to pay $10 to see it in a cheap theater. Then the people willing to pay $5 to watch it at home. (Through any means – Redbox, Blockbuster, Netflix rental, streaming. The method of delivery is the least important aspect of the transaction.) You continue downward until you’re selling to people who will only watch it for “free”. (As part of their monthly Netflix package.) Then it should stay there, forever. If at any time your movie is unavailable, you’re leaving money on the table for no reason.
As a content producer, I’d rather have a million people watch my movie for a nickel each than a hundred people watch it for $5 on pay-per-view. I’d prefer this, even if the numbers were changed so that I made the same money either way. The more people see it, the more people talk about it, and the more my media will become part of the culture. This will increase the size of my potential audience if I ever decide to make a sequel.
As a consumer, I’d rather pay a single monthly bill and browse a single large library of movies than pay several bills and hop from one service to the next when I want to find something to watch. Hm. I remember I wanted to see Sucker Punch when it came out. Is it on Netflix? No. Amazon streaming? No. Hulu? No. Hm. Inglorious Basterds might be good. I could check all three services for that one. Eh. You know what? this is a huge pain in the ass. I’ll just watch YouTube videos.
Also: All of these companies need to get their collective act together when it comes to Canada. This region-locking and licensing nonsense is more obsolete than dinosaurs.
Shamus Young is an old-school OpenGL programmer, author, and composer. He runs this site and if anything is broken you should probably blame him.