Blu-Ray Has Won The High Definition Format War But Aren’t Direct Downloads The Future?

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Blu-Ray Has Won The High Definition Format War But Aren't Direct Downloads The Future?The last year has seen a bitter war raging between manufacturers, movie studios and retailers over what would become the high definition format of choice for the future of DVD.

But with Direct Downloads from the Internet growing at a massive rate over the same time period, is there actually a future for physical discs to be fought over in the first place?

Here, Gigi Sohn discusses how yet again Hollywood seems to be missing the bigger picture, and failing to grasp how new mediums are making the old guard obsolete.

It’s Deja Vu All Over Again for Hollywood

Over the past several years, motion
picture studio lobbyists have been assuring policymakers, investors and
the public that they will not make the same mistake that record
companies did when the latter waited for years to make music legally
available over the Internet. 

As a result, fans seeking music online had
little alternative than to use free music services, many of which were
not legal. And while online services like iTunes and Rhapsody finally
did create a legal market for music, it was too late for the recording
industry to put the free music genie back in the bottle.

If yesterday’s article
in the New York Times
is any indication, Hollywood has a very short memory. Despite clear
indications that viewer demand for physical DVDs is declining in favor
of the more instant gratification of online movie downloads, the
studios are focusing their efforts on promoting not just the new high
definition DVD format, Blu-Ray,
but reinvigorating the entire DVD market. 

Additional Digital Discs

The Times reports that the
“centerpiece” of the studio’s
“market rejuvenation” effort is a DVD
that comes with an additional disc containing a digital file of the
same movie. A viewer can download the movie to their computer in five
minutes and watch it there, or the Times claims,
on an iPod
(color me skeptical that these digital files aren’t laden
with DRM.&nbsp If
that is the case, then iPod play would not be possible without
violating the DMCA).

In addition, the studios are digging even deeper
into their catalogues (anyone for the second season of “F-Troop”?)
and increasing their marketing in an effort to
“refresh” DVD sales.

At the same time, the studios have done very little to
their online services, and most of what is available online comes from
technology companies like Apple and Amazon, and not the studios

Moreover, as Times tech guru David Pogue
these services are plagued with limited selection and
“ridiculous time
limits for viewing.” In most cases, you have to start
watching the
movie within 30 days (its not like you have to get a physical copy back
to the store so someone else can rent it), and once you start the
movie, you have just 24 hours to finish it.

Deja Vu

So, in the immortal words of Yogi Berra,
it’s “déjà vu all over
again” – major content companies focus the vast
majority of their resources propping up an old business model in the
face of changing consumer preferences and expectations. 

And, the kicker
is, as the Times reports, the studios are
optimistic about
the future of DVDs because, in the words of one Fox executive, despite
“the marketing hocus pocus” of the
telecommunications industry,
broadband speeds will be too slow for many viewers to download movies
for the foreseeable future. At least that is what the studios are
telling Wall Street.

In Washington, of course, they tell policymakers
that the Internet is so incredibly fast that it facilitates widespread
movie piracy and must be stopped (or at least filtered).
Right now, the studios seem neither to care about consistency or (very
recent) history.

Gigi Sohn is an author at Public Knowledge discussing public rights in the emerging digital culture. Post has Some Rights Reserved.