The Future of Video Distribution

I previously stated I thought that the aggregator rather than the direct relationship was the way to go, and I still believe that to be the case.  Even Jeremy Allaire, who is definitely smarter than I am, concedes any direct relationship will take up to 10 years – if the shift were to take place.

Another compelling one comes from Jeremy Allaire, CEO of BrightCove. He believes that in the future, most consumers won’t rely nearly as much on carriers such as Comcast or SBC or DirecTV. In fact, they may not even rely on aggregators, such as Yahoo, Google, MySpace, or even Apple. Instead, he’s betting that increasingly, they’ll simply have a direct relationship with the owners of the content they want to see. Whether it’s the latest blockbuster movie, hot TV show or cult documentary, he’s betting that tomorrow’s more Net-savvy consumers will be able to use tomorrow’s more useful Internet to easily find what they’re looking for. “In the Interent model, you don’t need a Comcast to reach the consumer,” says Allaire.

It sounds far-fetched, and even Allaire says the transition would take ten years at least to get serious. A lot has to happen. For example, we’ll need true device convergence, so that video piped into a home could be viewed on either your PC, TV or any other screen-equipped devices that come into existence.

Business Week Online

In my view the direct relationship is possible though less likely since it would imply that I can simply and easily find it all.  How would this work?  Would I subscribe to a feed with keywords (in iTunes, Google / Google Reader), browse a directory of interest (in iTunes or Yahoo) or would I search and click (Yahoo or Google)? 

Personally, to see it as a purely direct relationship means that people are interested in working to find what they want, rather than relying on a system that makes it easier through either editors or a user based folksonomy like a, which would still need to download and sync to your machine and portable devices.

Assuming the networks are not blocked for use, you can develop an aggregated relationship through a portal or application (serving as a portal).  The reason Podcasting is mainstream is ease of use through iTunes.  Mass media types see this.  Before it was simply geek tech.

Again, keep it simple, make the customer happy.

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Premium Distributed Content from Apple?

I’ve been thinking about the iPod 5G and the video capability in iTunes and the ITMS and considering the success announced this week believe that it’s quite possible for things to accelerate much more rapidly towards a new network model.

If you think about the manner in which you subscribe to a podcast and apply that to a TV show, you can probably agree that it’s easy to see offering beyond the single pricing for programs.  If you add in the rest of the networks and possibly some cable access (Comedy Central) – even consider shows from premium networks like HBO and you can see a pretty intense disruption to how we collectively understand how TV works.

The current iPod supports a doubling of the current 320×240 resolution, which is great, but not ideal yet for true home watching.  It’s even better for portable viewing, but that’s about it for now.  Perhaps what’s missing is some additional networking capabilities within iTunes… like Bit Torrent.  As you enable a richer level of subscription content, it’s quite likely that the economics of delivering the materials could change considerably.  Let’s not forget that there’s more than just licensing to deal with here and in fact the bandwidth required to deliver high resolution content on a mass level could be quite considerable.  Assume Apple can nail this piece  – if not Bit Torrent for political sensitivities, than perhaps Kontiki or some other more acceptable private version of P2P. I don’t want to understate the shift this would create with how iTunes works, but it could be a very good thing to consider.

If Apple cut deals with quite a few networks for content – even movies, you would not need a cable or satellite box to bring you programming you like.  I’m hopeful that when the day comes, we’ll see something similar to how HBO on-demand works which is that if you choose to watch on the day, you can, but if you want the on-demand option (not recorded from DVR) you have to wait 24 hours.  This is quite reasonable to me and matches how ABC is offering their shows to Apple now.

You would still probably keep traditional viewing going for “appointment TV.”  Things like sports, and special live events are prime candidates, though streaming is an option as well especially as our network access speeds increase…If you still retain the basic options through your cable or satellite provider, you’ll need to pay more just for the right to have that option, unless you switch over to antenna viewing.

At $1.99 per video how much would your subscription run with Apple?  Well, if I look at my own viewing habits…  I watch (or try) to watch about 7-10 shows a week.  It’s pretty hard currently to keep up with my DVR actually and I usually watch a few in succession on Friday or Saturday night.  We record a few more shows for my wife and daughter so if I add it all up we probably consume closer to about 15 shows a week.  That’s about 30 bucks a week to Apple if we could subscribe on a per show basis and 120 bucks a month which is WAY more than I currently pay for cable and for considerably fewr channels. Let’s not forgot as well that this is the current pricing for low res material and that the cost for high res (not even high def) would be more.

Clearly there are some economic issues that quickly add up with per show pricing.  Admittedly I don’t have the solution here…

I do however see a future through iTunes with Front Row and what else might be planned here.  Any subscribed video would be available through Front Row and as we already know this runs on machines beyond the current iMac so a small form factor box like our friend the Mac Mini makes an excellent future candidate for the living room.  I’m sure though this type of machine gets even more capable when the switch to Intel takes place.  Intel already has reference platforms of this size and has shown their Viiv technology running on them. Imagine the enhanced capabilities with a more powerful processor, digital audio and surround capabilities.  Enhanced transcoding capabilities (PDF) will make transfer to portable devices like the iPod or multi-room viewing very attractive and allow for higher resolution content to delivered to a larger screen (whether TV or computer).

As we step beyond single show downloads towards subscription models through syndication and P2P, TV and of course the Long Tail content we already download becomes an extremely viable source of programming through non-traditional sources.  On-demand services are just beginning to deliver and will hopefully continue to grow rapidly to meet the pent up demand.

Update – I was just checking in with Memorandum and see that has a piece on this worth a read.

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Apple sells 1 Million Videos

“Selling 1 million videos in less than 20 days strongly suggests that there is a market for legal video downloads,” Jobs said. “Our next challenge is to broaden our content offerings so that customers can enjoy watching more videos on their computers and new iPods.”

Tech News on ZDNet

Not quite the 4 days it took for music sales to reach 1 Million, but still quite impressive.  I’d say there is a legitimate desire for video and that people are definitely comfortable on the small screen.

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MCE vs. TiVo??

Thomas Hawk pointed me to an interesting piece written by Alex Raiano at the TiVo Blog comparing MCE to TiVo.

First, thanks for blogging on TiVo (Alex specifically), but what the hell are you thinking with this?  MCE certainly has a DVR (at least in systems that ship with TV tuners), but it’s about much more.  You only do one thing!  While it can be argued you do it very well, the MCE value proposition is clearly about more than just the recording of TV. 

Perhaps the MS marketing department needs to be reminded that while TV is easy to grok, there are also Photos, Music, Videos (your own) and the Online Spotlight which can deliver quite a bit of additional content.  Only the MS bloggers seem to actively promote this.  I think actually even with 2 tuners inside MCE loses the battle on a purely DVR front since it really just comes down to money.

A $1,200 DVR is out of the question for most people.  I completely agree.  In fact while I could probably swing a $1000 DVR, I find it’s ridiculous to even consider when I can get a dual-tuner HDTV capable recorder for 10 bucks a month from my cable company. MCE does not even record HDTV.  OTA HDTV is not good enough… I need to record premium stations like HBO, not just NBC.

Thomas immediately brings up many of the advanced features power users enjoy from a richer platform like MCE which Tivo does not even try to deal with from a feature perspective.  Sure you can network your Tivo, and add additional features to it, but this is beyond the main base purpose and I believe well beyond the capabilities of most owners. 

MCE gets weaker as you expand out since while it is a jack of all trades, it really (and unfortunately) is a master of none.  While a fully functioning PC underneath the MCE interface is attractive
to some people, this hurts you.  A PC has issues like malware, viruses
and of course device drivers and conflicts

Tivo is probably best as an ingredient within another platform at this point – Apple Front Row perhaps? 

In the end other than the DVR, which is the purpose of TiVo and a single feature of MCE, is the only comparable detail.  If you look purely at that TiVo clearly wins on price and picture quality, but MCE has two tuners or more in some addvanced systems.

MCE actually makes the market more complex since while a DVR is in there, it’s about selling PCs.  Speaking of which, when you get to the bunddling issue as Alex addresses … many people are starting to buy MCE devices because the software is in there, though I also wonder how much use they get from the full set of capabilities.

I started this with a point, which I think I’ve lost… Comparing the two things is a slippery slope for both sides.  If I worked for MS on MCE, I would work pretty damn hard to simplify the experience so that there was a more mass appeal.  Telegraph the benefits on a higher level and let the advanced users (your existing market) take care of sharing the benefits with each other – which happens today through community sites and enthusiastic bloggers.  Tivo – get cracking on some bundling and adding multiple HD tuners… next year is getting closer, but how much will that cable-card capable box really cost?  If around 1000 bucks, MCE creeps into mind pretty significantly.

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Simultaneously Releasing Movies

The idea of a movie being available on DVD or VOD the same day it’s released in a theater is very attractive to me.  There have been plenty of times in the past few years when I was not able to get to a movie for whatever reason and have simply waited for Netflix or my cable VOD service to get access…

With a simultaneous release (even at a higher price for non-theater viewing) I’d be able to enjoy the same film, on my terms.  This is a great addition to the Home Theater experience, or the HTPC experience if delivered over IP.

Clearly the plans being developed by Mark Cuban, Morgan Freeman’s Clickstar and now the Independent Film Channel are cause for some controversy:

In an interview before his speech, Shyamalan said he planned to ask theater owners at ShowEast’s Final Night Banquet and Award Ceremony “for zero tolerance on this — to say, ‘If you’re gonna release a movie in another medium, then you’re not going to get into our theaters’ — because at the end of the day, they hold all the cards.”

Shyamalan: Day-and-date ‘life or death to me’

I really hope it does not come to this and that perhaps as a consession, the DVD release is pushed.  On-Demand though would really make things considerably more available.  Please charge more money…I’d definitely pay for the convenience.

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Apple lobs grenade into Microsoft media center camp

APC Magazine’s Dan Warne reckons Apple is about to deftly round-house kick Microsoft’s media center strategy for six. First Apple leaves a mysterious header on the Mac Mini motherboard for a non-existent iPod dock connector. Then it brings out media center software and a video iPod at the same time. Then it recruits the head of TV recording company ElGato. When you put the pieces together, it ain’t pretty for Microsoft.  []

All the stuff I love thinking about. The mini as a trojan horse, and the iPod 5G as the stealth bomber that flys directly towards Redmond.

Apple has collected the pieces, maintains software and marketing superiority … we just need the public plan of action and like lemmings we’ll flock.

Seriously though Apple will likely nail it, if they decide to roll FrontRow, plus TV beyond the dorm room through the new iMac.

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3ivX your existing movies, compatible for iPod Video (No recompression!)

Gotta love this… an “easy” way to convert those larger higher res files you might find through certain non-ITMS channels for use on the iPod.

Convert your existing movies(Divx, Xvid) into iPod video format without having to re-encode the file. DivX Doctor II updates DivX .avi videos to 3ivx QuickTime (.mov) videos. After the conversion you will be able to play the video smoothly, and the audio glitches inherent in the AVI format will be fixed. The conversion is fast.

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Participatory Culture Foundation

This sounds awesome and basically what I was talking about earlier today except it will be done by the consumer… not the broadcast networks. That said, if Downhill Battle is successful at getting this software distributed on release, it would make a great platform for an existing content creator (networks and cable) to begin narrowcasting right to the end watcher. Sounds highly disruptive, and easy to use. I can’t wait. Hat Tip Boing Boing

Announcing a new platform for internet television and video. Anyone can broadcast full-screen video to thousands of people at virtually no cost, using BitTorrent technology. Viewers get intuitive, elegant software to subscribe to channels, watch video, and organize their video library. The project is non-profit, open source, and built on open standards. Today we’re announcing the project and releasing our current sourcecode. The software is launching in June. [Participatory Culture Foundation]

Sony’s Digital Film Store

This sounds very cool… though I wonder how compatible it will be with the PSP which certainly supports “memory cards” as the Memory Stick supports DMR through Magic Gate. I think the challenge for Sony will be that Windows Media, the only video format that supports DRM, is not a supported format by the PSP. There are ways to convert WMV files to other formats, but I doubt that works with the DRM-enabled versions.

Michael Arrieta, senior vice president of Sony Pictures, said, “I’m trying to create the new anti-Napster” and his group plans to digitize Sony Pictures’ top 500 films and make them available for the first time in various digital environments within the next year. According to the report, Sony plans to sell and make films available in flash memory for mobile phones in the next year and will also further develop its digital stores for downloading and owning films on the PC. “The future is about creating an entertainment ecosystem,” in which players, platforms, content rights and the user interface are fluid.” [Billboard PostPlay]

While it’s great that Sony is going to offer 500 digital movies and that does seem like a good number, I wonder how successful it can be only utilizing their own content. This is a standard Sony problem actually and one they seem to like re-creating. consumers don’t typically shop movies (or music) by label or studio so while 500 seems good now, if they were all there at once the number of movies you might actually be interested in watching will be considerably lower.

If a 3rd party was able to do this (ahem, Apple) I believe it would be much more successful as the iTunes Music Store has been since it can aggregate content from so many different publishers and artists without bias.

Collecting movies

Mark Cuban has an interesting post on the legalities of collecting movies and how perhaps Hollywood might consider some changes in release schedules.

So Hollywood has a choice. They can change their businessmodel of windowed distribution of movies and significantly impede any potential impact of camcordering and internet downloads. How ?

They can release DVDs day and date with their theatrical release. Let the customer consume the movie exactly the way the customer wants to get it. What a concept. Shocking isnt it.

Or, they can keep the status quoa and spend lots and lots of taxpayer dollars filling up our courts suing websites and kids. Of course suing and complaining means there is always going to be an excuse if business doesnt go well. [Blog Maverick]

I, Robot

Just got back from I, Robot at the Sony Metreon here in San Francisco…

While there seems to be some controversy in how closely the movie follows the philosophy of Asimov, I really enjoyed it. As I recently mentioned I had just read the book (eBook actually) and thought it was very cool. The movie takes clear influence and inspiration, but adapts from the stories to (of course) create something more akin to a Hollywood blockbuster popcorn movie.

The visual effects are seriously cool, though a bit too much of the matrix bullet-time is used for my taste. That withstanding, it was a fun ad action packed film. Will Smith’s character, Spooner, grew on me as the movie progressed. Initially he was actually too intensely anti-robot and anti-tech, but all is revealed in time…

The best part as the special matinee price – $7.95. I can’t recall the last time a movie was only 8 bucks.

P.S. Thank you annoying guy behind me for not speaking once the movie started… while I was not thrilled with your narrative of the previews I was quite happy you shut up when the feature started to roll.

The Day After Tomorrow

Not a bad flick at all… The story was a tad sappy, but the effects were cool. Even if it pushed the limits of reason and logic, it’s a solid popcorn summer movie. It is definitely chilling to see the destruction of a place you live… even if it’s just a movie.

Thanks to some nifty internet technology, and the better part of day downloading…I was able to watch this current release from the comfort of my home tonight. All brought to me by the letters BT. Actually the first time I’ve watched one of these, and pretty amazed at the relative ease once you get he hang of the distribution system. If the quality was better, I’d definitely pay for the privilege. Even though I know I can pay over $10 anytime I want and go to the theater to get the arm that occasionally crossed into view…. 😉

Kill Bill director aims for Bond

Just caught this off the BBC

“I’ve always wanted to do it. I bumped into Pierce Brosnan and we talked about it. He liked the idea,” the cult film director said.

The Pulp Fiction director said he was interested in remaking the original story Casino Royale.

“I would like to do the original book ‘Casino Royale’ and do it more or less the way the Ian Fleming book is,” Tarantino said.

Kill Bill

I have yet to see Kill Bill as it did not make the cut for ReelMoms so we’ll have to find some time for the DVD…

how can one envision bringing together with an almost comic book cinematic style, kung fu, samurai sword fighting, rare and deep soul and funk music, a tragic love story, overwhelming love for one’s child, southern red neck culture (the pussy wagon anyone?), even an early pregnancy test and its ad slogans and of course some of the deepest and most sadistic violence. [snoozebutton]