A sizable portion of the Internet population readily adopted authorized music services when they debuted in 2003. At 99 cents per song, or approximately $7.99 per full album, the price was good enough to generate a market capable of reversing the music industry's losses.
The movie industry is facing its own financial hardships, as movie attendance continues slide. It was once thought the movie industry was largely immune from online piracy, as reproducing the movie experience at home was difficult and very expensive. However with the rapid price decline in electronic devices, such as surround sound and large TVs, the movie experience quickly became emulated in the home setting.
Unlike the theater experience, investing in a home theater is a gift that continues to give. The question then becomes how to populate this home theater with entertainment. Much like music acquisition, the Internet has become an established distribution medium for cinematic releases. Because of a relatively weak authorized distribution system for movies, services suck as Movielink and CinemaNow have not broken into the mainstream. Today’s announcement by Sony is the first viable attempt to change that.
Sony announced today a partnership between Movielink and CinemaNow, in which many of the bigger named titles will be available for download. Initially 75 titles will be offered, such as Memoirs of a Geisha and Spiderman 2. Superficially it would appear the movie industry is trying to avoid a similar situation that has damaged sales for the music industry.
Yet the same driving force that has enabled a successful authorized music market may not replicate for Hollywood's venture. Authorized music services, particularly iTunes, have prospered due to the overwhelming convenience factor. A quick 99 cents here or there doesn’t amount to a small fortune, and is a better value than purchasing an entire album. The same can’t be said for Sony’s new Movielink and CinemaNow venture.
Take “Memoirs of a Geisha” for example. After quick ride to BestBuy, a consumer can purchase the widescreen 2 disc special edition for $19.99. On Movielink, the same title costs $25.99 while on CinemNow, the title costs $19.95 (a savings of five cents.)
Not only do both these services generally cost more than the actual physical DVD, they are compounded with a laundry list of restrictions.
First, once the 1.5 gigabyte file is downloaded, the user cannot burn the movie to a playable DVD. In order to play the movie on a TV, the consumer must have a video card with S-video out, not to mention a compatible TV. There’s also a question of quality, which is undoubtedly good, yet at 1.5 gigabytes is not an exact DVD replicate (most DVDs are either 4.5 or 9 gigabytes.) Downloaded movies cannot be played on portable devices such as the iPod, PSP or PDAs. The consumer can however transfer the movie to three alternative PCs. Distribution on P2P? According to Movielink, “Distribution of any movie files on peer-to-peer networks is not permitted.”
There is also a rental component to both Movielink and CinemaNow. Movielink charges between $3 and $5 for newer releases, while CinemaNow is a bit less expensive with a cap of $3.99. The movie is designed to self destruct after 24 hours of playing the movie, however can be watched an unlimited number of times during that timeframe.
With HD-DVD and Blue-Ray just around the corner, Movielink and CinemaNow hardly appear like dedicated efforts to introduced authorized movies to the Internet. Downloading full length movies – even 700 mb XviDs – are still reserved for those with the will, knowledge and the bandwidth to accomplish such a feat. Movielink and CinemaNow may be a step in the right direction, but they lack the initial consumer-driven punch that accompanied iTunes. Both stores lack the value and attraction that made iTunes the success story it is today, and with prices greater than the actual DVD, it might be difficult to retract an unfavorable first impression.