Dear TV and movie industries: stop being dicks

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll have noticed earlier today that I went off on one about shiny discs versus naughty downloads of TV shows and films. My rant was prompted by two things:

  • Studios continuing to whinge about the eleven billion dollars per second they’re apparently losing through the evils of piracy, oblivious to the fact they are in part to blame for said piracy;
  • A number of official pre-recorded shiny discs I’ve recently bought that made me want to hit things.

In the latter case, it’s commonplace to plonk your shiny disc in your shiny disc player and watch, getting increasingly angry, as the following happens:

  1. Unskippable company logos, to remind you who’s wasting your time;
  2. Unskippable piracy warning, to remind you who’s patronising you;
  3. Unskippable adverts and trailers, to remind you about things you either already own, didn’t want to buy, or perhaps didn’t want to buy a while ago, when you first bought the shiny disc;
  4. Unskippable advert about some other format that you don’t care about or already own, to remind you to add ‘the people who compiled this disc’ to your list;
  5. Unskippable animated menu, to remind you that the studio’s art department are just as dickish as its marketing and legal teams.

Phew! That all takes a while. But at least now you can play your show—well, at least if the stupid unskippable animated menu doesn’t continue stupidly animating between pages, like some kind of stupid videogame where you get to control precisely nothing.

But wait! Then this happens:

  1. Unskippable warning that the commentary on this disc might contain opinions that differ from those of the studio, to remind you that sometimes it would be better to put disclaimers on the box, or in a little menu option called ‘disclaimers’, like they do on websites;
  2. Another unskippable piracy warning, to remind you that, yes, these guys really hate you;
  3. Unskippable stupid logo for the stupid sound encoding the stupid disc makes, to remind you to hate related parties and not just the studio itself;
  4. More unskippable logos, to remind you that you’ve just wasted minutes of your life, for no good reason.

I’ve recently bought discs that do exactly this, and it drives me nuts. In one case, I have an ‘acquired’ digital copy of some episodes of one of the TV shows, and here’s what happens when I select a file:

  • It plays, immediately, and with no fuss.

“Aha,” you might argue, “studios are getting this! Just buy digital downloads, you idiot! They don’t have all this crap welded to them.” And that is true. Fire up an episode of, say, Castle on the Apple TV and it goes right to the content itself, without all the associated crap. But here’s the thing: studios still clearly want you buying shiny discs and not digital files, presumably because shiny discs provide more profit, or just because they hate you. I say this on the basis that:

  • Digital content (in terms of access) is haphazard and inconsistent across territories, often being hugely delayed outside of the home territory and sometimes not showing up elsewhere at all;
  • Digital content is often removed from services after a short time (such as movies that suddenly vanish from the Apple TV);
  • Digital content is typically priced at least as high as a shiny disc, and older content is rarely discounted, leading to the absurd comparison of “shall I buy this TV show on iTunes for £40 or just grab the DVD for a fiver?”;
  • Digital content is sometimes locked down with DRM, making it hard or impossible to transfer between devices you own.

By comparison, illegal content is:

  • Available worldwide, shortly after broadcast;
  • Typically available for a lot longer than official digital content;
  • Free;
  • Easy to transfer between devices.

The continued bitching of the film and TV industries and its support for draconian copyright measures is really pissing me off. The industries still refuse, for various reasons, to provide anywhere near the same level of user experience in bought media—be it digital or physical—that people can get with illegally downloaded content. There will, of course, always be people who refuse to pay for anything—but they are a lost cause; however, most people are happy to pay for convenience and immediacy. The thing is, they don’t want to wait. It’s no longer the 1980s, where you don’t really know right away what’s going on elsewhere in the world. When a new episode of House airs in the USA or Doctor Who on the BBC, everyone who’s a fan knows about this. If your studio isn’t then making this content legally available, affordably, and on a worldwide basis, shortly after broadcast, you’ve only yourselves to blame when people hit torrent websites and download it for free.

As I said on Twitter:

Companies do a lot better commercially when it appears they don’t hate their customers with a frenzied passion.

When some chunks of the music industry realised this, ditched DRM, embraced digital and mostly stopped being dicks, things started to improve. The same could be true for the movie and TV industries too, but they have to want to stop being dicks first.

January 27, 2012. Read more in: Film, Television

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More wonderful movie studio idiocy regarding online movie rentals

So Mrs G fancied watching Iron Man 2 on Sunday, and we duly checked the Apple TV, since we’d bookmarked the movie a while back. Oddly, there was only a preview and no rental option, on both the UK and US stores. Remembering that The Social Network and Salt both recently vanished from the store, we figured this was yet another movie studio playing silly buggers and decided to rewatch Sherlock Holmes instead… which also wasn’t available.

Naturally, both movies are available to buy on iTunes, which isn’t much cop in the UK, given that you can’t buy movies through Apple TV yet. And even if you could, it’s insane that studios are now only allowing short-term digital rentals, before they leave buying a movie as the only option. With Iron Man 2, that’s doubly insane, since the iTunes purchase costs twice what the DVD does on Amazon. And in our case, it was an impulse decision anyway. We didn’t think the movie was amazing first time round and we certainly don’t want to own it, but a few quid for a one-off rental would have been fine.

In the mind of movie-studio execs, here’s how this all plays out:

  1. Release movie for digital rental and watch as loads of people rent during the first few weeks. MAKE MONEY!
  2. Remove movie from rental and watch as people buy the movie instead. MAKE MOAR MONEY!

What happens in reality:

  1. Release movie for digital rental and watch as loads of people rent during the first few weeks. MAKE MONEY!
  2. Remove movie from rental and don’t understand as people watch something else instead. MAKE NO MOAR MONEY!

August 8, 2011. Read more in: Apple, Film, Opinions, Technology

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Vue Cinemas’s interesting perception of the ‘value’ component of a value meal

Strong sales largely rely on balancing price, profits and demand. Make something too cheap and your revenue will be high (if demand is also high), but you won’t make much profit. Make something too expensive and your profit-per-unit could be high, but you also risk killing demand.

It’s with this thought in mind that I wonder why Vue Cinemas prices food and drink the way it does. It’s not the only chain guilty of gouging a captive audience, but it’s shocking how far the company has gone in recent years. In my local cinema, the ‘value’ meal that comprises a regular popcorn and drink now costs an astonishing eight pounds (roughly the cost of an adult ticket). The chain, naturally, provides a bucket of each product, in order to try and give you the perception of value (i.e. “Wow, that was expensive, but they sure give you a lot!”), but I wonder if people are starting to see through the bullshit.

Of late, it’s increasingly common to see entire audiences without any refreshments at all, bar the odd bottle of overpriced water. It’s clear that the modern cinema is pricing itself out of its own captive market. Additionally, people are being increasingly careful about diet, and so “enough Coke to drown in” doesn’t look as appealing as it perhaps once did.

One curiosity at Vue, though, is its kiddy combo (first noticed by Mrs. G). You get a smallish drink, a smallish amount of popcorn and a candy of some kind. On closer inspection, the amount of popcorn you get still exceeds what you’d find in three small bags in a supermarket multipack, and the candy is typically a ‘fun size’ Milky Way. The cost, though, is—relatively speaking—not too bad: under three quid. What I wonder is why Vue and other chains aren’t recognising that adults en masse would almost certainly buy more smaller portions if they were offered and available for a reasonable price, and the subsequent increase in sales would offset people avoiding the ridiculous ‘value’ meals currently sold.

In the meantime, I’ll continue buying the odd kiddie combo. I don’t have a kid myself, but it’s the only option that’s not totally taking the piss from a pricing standpoint and that isn’t akin to snarfing down enough salt to kill a movie-monster slug and enough sugar to make your teeth explode.

July 25, 2011. Read more in: Film, Opinions

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Forget about Skynet—the machines have already won

Nice quote from James Cameron on TMZ, referring to us managing to escape destruction by Skynet and machines then taking over:

With everybody going through their lives bent over their Blackberries all day long, you could even argue the machines have already won.

April 21, 2011. Read more in: Film, Humour, News, Technology

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US cinema chains to combat television by showing fewer movies

The Guardian reports that US cinema chains are run by fucking idiots. OK, so The Guardian’s language isn’t quite that fruity (the article is ‘US cinemas threaten not to show films in video-on-demand dispute’), but I think my intro sums things up nicely.

Cinema is under increasing pressure from television, largely because people now have TVs the size of a wall, and they can watch stuff in private, without having idiots around them yammering on phones and stuffing overpriced popcorn into their faces, and, occasionally, their mouths. But with Hollywood studios planning to make new releases available for online rental two months after they debut on the big screen, US cinema chains are threatening to not show films by the likes of Universal, Sony, Warner Bros and Fox.

THAT WILL WORK!

No, wait. It won’t.

Two things here:

  1. Cinema chains rarely leave anything other than blockbusters on for more than a few weeks. Therefore, if the window really is going to be reduced to two months, it isn’t really going to make any odds anyway.
  2. Cinema chains rattle on about how cinema remains relevant because it’s all about the experience. If that’s really the case, cinemas shouldn’t feel threatened by video-on-demand—they should instead be doing their level best to improve the cinema-going experience. Clue: this doesn’t involve sticky floors, suddenly turning the best seats into super-expensive VIP chairs that no-one ever sits in, charging more for popcorn and a drink than a meal out at a local pub, and sound systems that distort the audio so much that you think the latest Oscar winner is about a bunch of bees disguised as humans.

April 13, 2011. Read more in: Film, News, Opinions, Technology, Television

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