Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Is That Something You Might Be Interested In?

Two recent news items - and if Paris Hilton's jail stint qualifies for that term, than so do my items - caught my attention recently.

1) Comcast is in some stage of negotiation to offer feature films to their customers as a pay-per-view service, on the same day & date that they debut in cinemas. For example, for somewhere between $25 and $50, you could sit in the comfort of your own home and watch Transformers at the same time that all the twelve year olds are being dropped off at the AMC Theatre by their parents.

2) The sale of dvd-based pornography is falling drastically, as sites with user generated content offer easy to access, free peep shows.

What do these two have to do with each other? Everything.

Video on demand, be it user generated or offered by some semi-to-fully legit outfit, is changing how we think about video itself. In the beginning, moving pictures were confined to dark rooms with reel to reel projectors. Next came television, the original video on demand. Then VHS. Then DVD. (I skipped over laserdiscs and betamax because they're best left forgotten)

Now, we of the internet culture are used to things like video podcasts, vlogs, youtube, and finally legit copyrighted content, available via IP, from services like iTunes. This is all fantastic. It's great. It's the natural evolution of our online community. But it still kinda sucks.

User generated content, your little brother's friend's vlog, even iTunes new "Apocalypto" download all do the same thing. They cheapen the spectacle of film. People are becoming too willing to trade quality for novelty. Sure, you can go buy a DVD, complete with DTS sound, and 1080p picture quality, then watch it from your big comfy couch, on your big sexy LCD television - or you can download the same movie on iTunes, with 3.1 or maybe 5.1 sound, decent resolution, and watch it on your iPod's three inch screen while riding the subway to work. The novelty of carrying the content in your pocket, has replaced the quality of watching a high resolution picture with fantastic sound.

So where do Comcast and Porn fit in? The dvd-based pornography industry may be selling fewer copies, but the percentage they're losing there is replaced by the same content providers offering free teaser sites that push traffic to pay sites with full length films, offered online. The translation: the porn industry, which like it or not sets just about every trend for home video (why do think laserdisc failed?), has realized that people will still pay for high quality. The people you thought stopped spending money on porn, just started paying for it somewhere else.

And Comcast? Their about the only entity that can capitalize on the video-on-demand trend, and do it right. Apple is making strides in the right direction, with AppleTV and iTunes movie downloads, but the fact remains that most of the people who would buy the movie from iTunes probably own a high def tv, and would rather use that than their iPod, or even their laptop screen. As far as new releases being available on demand through Comcast, it's these same folks, the ones who own the gorgeous home theater systems, that will utilize this service. Sure, movie theater chains will probably lose money - but they make very little on ticket sales anyway. The people who will gain are those folks interested in the spectacle. These are the folks that sneak their own candy into the cinema. They're also the people you've heard say things like "I'll just wait for the DVD." As for the movie theater chains, they'll be ok. The twelve year olds will still be at the theaters, spending money on popcorn and soda.

Now we've skipped over the big elephant in the room, and that is the illegal sharing of copyrighted material, and all I have to say on that is it's the mp3 argument all over again. 90% of the people engaging in piracy of music wouldn't spend the money on it if piracy was eradicated, so saying that 100% of music piracy is detracting from record companies' profits is ludicrous. Same thing goes for video. Piracy will never be eradicated, but neither will people willing to pay for quality content disappear.

See you in the funny pages...

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