Friday, January 18, 2008

Die DVD Die!

A couple of days ago, Apple Inc. did what they do best in the world of computers, electronics and innovating, they shook things up. The obvious tremor was the announcement that movie rentals were just hours away from being available on the ubiquitous iTunes store. For a few bucks, the promise of first run movies bowing on iTunes about a month after those same films come out on DVD had become a reality. A whole month? A little inconvenient if you're salivating for a particular title (in which case you're likely buying, not renting) but pretty easy to take if you've just got a casual interest in catching a flick you missed at the theater.

Though movies have been available on iTunes for some time now, it's never been much of a market as only a couple of studios were participating and only Disney was moving it's new releases. To put things in perspective, Apple counts success in selling songs in the billions and TV shows in the hundreds of millions. Till now, movies have garnered about 7 million downloads. That number, announced by Steve Jobs at the annual MacWorld conference in San Francisco, held earlier this week, clearly does not impress. As of January 15, 2008, life in the world of producing, manufacturing, distributing and retailing DVDs is poised to radically change. Here's why.

What Steve Jobs says, makes an industry difference. Go ask a record label. Like it or not, Mac or PC, stuff you're preferences and personal feelings and recognize a little slice of reality. The iTunes store not only works, it revolutionized the selling of music. In any industry, forecasters and visionaries of future trends look to find a model within their marketplace to baseline their projections. Within the entertainment world, the relationship between music and movies is as close a correlation as you could hope for. These are businesses with cross-marketing, cross-demographics and cross-retailing opportunities abounding. There's no reason to assume what's good for one won't be good for the other. There's also no reason to assume that what was inevitable for one won't be an inescapable destiny for the other. DVDs are dying. Say what you will, gaze lovingly at your collectible box sets, your special 3D covers, cute inserts and added features, just as you once did your shiny jewel boxed CDs. It will be a slow, perhaps even painful death, but make no mistake, the dying has begun.

And die they should. Why? Because it just makes sense. Get a life and start accepting the merits of digital downloads. First, if you're still living in the dark ages (or deep in the Ozarks) get broadband. Over a matter of minutes, movie purchases can shoot through a broadband connection like, well, use the analogy of your choice. Movie rentals can allow viewing in less than a minute of beginning a download. Too slow for you? Time your next drive to Target or even your walk down to the mail box. Then factor in the time of the day, your computer never closes. Going green?, then the arguments already made for you - no disc, no packaging, no plastic wrap, no infuriating security seals, no electricity used at the plant, no trucks wasting gas on deliveries, no trips to the store and no trash left over. For the seller, no bigger footprint to sell one than sell a million. Nice. Did I mention the storage issue? I have more than 750 DVDs in my collection. Shelf space is what I don't have.

Listen people, this is happening and you should embrace it. Relax, they'll be lots of time to adjust, but the sooner you send a signal to studios and moviemakers that you're down with doing downloads, the quicker you're going to see your favorites, new and old, popping up in preview and getting those added DVD features like commentaries and behind the scenes extras we've all come to know and love. You may love your old vinyl the way you cherish your first edition books but it may have been fortuitous that there was never really anything very endearing about a silvery plastic disc anyway.

Is Apple really the harbinger of the DVD death threat? Their most obvious move this past Tuesday was the movie rental announcement. But they weren't only firing from their own fort. All of the major movie studios, all of them, signed on. Rental content will appear as quickly as prints can be made available, digitized and formatted. If rentals aren't of interest, you have only to wait. ITunes started with selling songs. ITunes today sells music, non-DRM music, music video, television shows, television movies, movies, rents movies and gives away thousands and thousands of podcasts. As downloads dominate retail and spell out the death of hard media, digital download will become the obvious and obviously lucrative marketplace for movie buying. So forget about shopping for new wall units and DVD cabinets. Oh, and forget all of that nonsense about Blu-Ray and HD DVD vying to become the standard in high definition DVD formats. Who needs 'em? And for that matter, who needs another DVD player? Already among the earliest titles on iTunes movie rentals are a smattering of titles that can be viewed in HD for just a buck premium. Save your money and start thinking about a really big hard drive. Can you say terabyte?

It's no surprise that the showpiece of this year's MacWorld was Apple's new ultra-thin laptop, the MacBook Air. For a company and a visionary leader who rarely miss anything, the new laptop is missing what has become a computer feature prerequisite, an optical CD/DVD drive. As Steve Jobs put it, we don't think most of you will miss it. Neither do I. Have the vision to take a look just a short way down the road and you may not think so either.

If you'd like to watch all of Steve Jobs keynote address at MacWorld, surprise, it's available for download on the iTunes podcast page or at apple.com.

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