Tuesday, April 26, 2011
Commentary: Swimming down the video stream
Last summer I wrote that, despite the advent of more digital download options, I thought DVD/Blu-ray represented the best format for home video. I still generally feel this way, but to borrow the title of a wonderful 1988 movie, "Things Change."
The biggest shift came in November, when Netflix -- which represents three-fifths of all on-demand movies sold -- announced a new online-only membership plan, and increased the number of titles available for instant viewing.
Plus, many more options for downloading or streaming movies have ramped up: Amazon Instant Video, Apple iTunes, Hulu Plus, Wal-Mart's VUDU, to name a few.
I still hold that a physical disc is the best option for watching movies. The picture and sound quality is unbeatable, and you don't have to worry about filling up your memory drive or getting your entire film collection zapped by a thunderstorm.
But for casual viewing, whether on the big-screen TV in your living room or on the go with your mobile device, streaming/downloading has many advantages. If you're just renting, it's a lot cheaper than shelling out to buy a disc. And the ability to choose your movie and start watching it within seconds (via streaming) is a consumer's dream.
Until recently I was working at home with our son, and when I needed to distract him for a few minutes there was nothing easier than using Netflix to call up a Barney or Care Bears video. (Hey, he's 6 months old, so no accounting for taste.)
The analogy I make for discs vs. downloads is your friends vs. your Facebook friends. Your friends are solid, real and valuable to you. Your Facebook friends are folks you want to stay loosely connected with -- the ease and convenience of doing so online means you don't have to lose sight of them completely.
In the same way, streaming video is for movies you want to watch right now, and convenience is paramount. With more choices available online, it becomes a more attractive option.
Still, the vast majority of titles are only available as a disc. For instance, if you want to watch "Things Change," you'll have to have Netflix mail you a disc -- it's not available for streaming.