Monday, September 14, 2009

Any Movie, Any TV Program, Anytime!

How quickly consumer electronics technologies and devices change and become obsolete. Look at Compact Discs (CD audio discs.) When introduced, they were heralded as the perfect way to store and play music. They were small, easy to manufacture, and the players inexpensive. CD sales ballooned and they quickly made vinyl records a curiosity found now mostly in museums and attics around the world. That was the in 1980s. Over the past few years the sale of music on CD’s has plummeted. The new “kid on the block” of course is the ability to get music online in the form of streaming or the downloading of actual computer files containing the music. Why have a library of CDs gathering dust on a shelf when you can have your entire library in your pocket in your iPod or any one of a myriad other digital devices?

In the video arena the same is happening, perhaps at a somewhat slower pace, but nevertheless it is moving in the same direction as the Compact Disc. Going back to the dark ages of VHS and Beta VCRs, the digital replacement was the DVD. Just like its cousin, the Compact Disc, these small discs were cheap and the players soon became as available as calculators at the check out counter. More recently they were improved to embrace the High Definition TV landscape. How long will DVDs be around? Perhaps they will have a shorter life than Compact Discs.

As more and more of us get better connections to the Internet and the Internet “pipes” get more robust, the concept of actually having a movie or TV program on a tape or disc will seem quaint. A look at what is available on line now gives us a good idea of what is to come.

NetFlix ( is a great example. The company built a multi-billion dollar industry by offering DVDs of movies without the hassle of going to a video store. You go on line and set up a list of movie titles that you would like to have. Those titles are sent to you via US Mail. You keep them for as long as you wish and when you return a movie another from your list is sent. No late fees. Of course there is a monthly charge depending on how many movies or programs you receive during that month. It is a simple, successful strategy that millions of people use every day.

Netflix is not sitting back and counting their money; they understand that this DVD based system may have a very short life span and they are quickly changing their business to offer movies and programs on line. While the list of titles available on line to be downloaded is much smaller than the DVD based library, it is expanding quickly. In most cases the negotiation for digital rights is the stumbling block.

For sure, just like most technologies, this ability to watch anything at any time will not totally make obsolete preceding technologies or services. The shared experience of watching a movie in a movie theater will continue to be viable. Collectors will still want to have a CD or DVD that they can touch and put on a shelf. Increasingly so, most of our viewing will be on line via the Internet.

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