A friend and I were having a discussion recently. I asked him what he thought the next method of distribution for films and music would be. My thoughts were that we would have to come up with some new method that was convenient, sturdy and didn’t involve compression (as CDs and DVDs do, thereby limiting the picture and sound quality, although not very much). He simply said that it wasn’t going to happen; in the future it’s all going to be distributed on the Internet.
I’ve heard this argument before. My grade ten IT teacher assured us that within five years (and this was four years ago) we would no longer be purchasing CDs. With the advent of broadband we were going to see purchases of music and movies online, streamed to the computer or another device. I’ve always thought this was relatively unlikely. I may be in the minority, but I really like the CD and DVD cases. There’s something a bit more tangible to them, more of a feeling of value for money. Plus they look kind of good lined up on a shelf like some new-age library.
Having thought about it for a while now I have no doubt that the Internet is set to become a major distributor of media. When you think about it, it makes sense. Low to no production and distribution costs; you just provide a download location when people send you money. Cutting out the ‘middle man’ has always been an effective way to save money, and in this case you’re cutting out the shop owners, couriers and manufacturers. This should lead to substantial drops in prices (and loss of jobs… but… I have no defence for that. You’re just going to have to find yourselves a new career. Sorry. On the positive side your entertainment costs will go down, so you won’t need the job quite as much…).
Purchasing movies or CDs can be quite expensive. When you’re a bit unsure about whether or not you really want a particular title, the full price is often more than you’re willing to pay. This leads to trawling the second hand shops looking for a cheaper copy or simply pirating the product. Digital distribution opens up whole new areas for the marketers. Different quality streams could be provided at increasing prices. If you’re just interested to see what a film’s like then pay a little and get a low quality version. If the distributor were to offer an upgrade option that takes into account the amount of money already spent on a film, it could become a very attractive offer. This could also reduce the amount of piracy around. Finding and downloading movies is time consuming and irritating. It often takes around twenty hours to download a film, due to varying connection speeds and quality. If the movies were easy to access, cheap to purchase and the servers fast enough for the user to get the movie in around the time it would have taken to go and hire a film, then many of the reasons for pirating would be lost. In terms of hiring films, providing temporary access to online streams of movies for very low cost would work nicely.
Global distribution becomes a lot easier this way. As a big fan of foreign films, I often have to hope that the movies I want to see pop up on EBay, or wait for one of my infrequent trips to a larger city than I live in to visit their markets and/or Chinatown in order to purchase movies. I’d love the option of buying the movies with greater ease online.
There are already a few sites out there offering the purchase of movie downloads, although I’m not sure how the legality and licensing of these ventures works. The content available from the sites is often quite limited (and we’re talking really quite limited here, the most recent flick I found on one site was from 1980), but the right idea is there. Music is also being sold online through such places as the Apple Music Store and the MSN Music Store. These offer songs for download at about $0.99 a song, which is cheap, easy, quick, legal and more likely to get your money to the artists as opposed to the big corporations manufacturing CDs.
So, I’ve come around to the idea of online distribution and its beneficial application to movies, music, software and even books. I still like my colourful boxes and cases but there are some movies that I own simply because I wanted to see them. The local video rental shop didn’t have a copy, so resorting to buying them is an expensive way to see what a film is like. I guess my hopes for a completely uncompressed format are all but lost (not that it really matters any more with the ever increasing quality of technology). If the distributors will just get onto this idea as soon as possible they can solve many of their problems and ours within a very short period of time.