While pay music downloads have been a hit with Apple’s iTunes and beyond, movie download services such as Movielink and CinemaNow have been slower to catch on. The problem is that these services don’t offer as much selection as a DVD service such as NetFlix, and they restrict the usage of the movie on your computer. CinemaNow, for instance, does not allow you to burn the movie downloads on a DVD or transfer them to a video iPod.
Maybe this will change in the not-so-distant future when Apple and/or Netflix starts some type of movie download service. Apple has been mum about plans for a possible $9.99 per download movie service, and CNBC recently reported that Netflix has likely had trouble securing rights from the movie studios to sell downloads. Plus, a Netflix deal with TiVo hasn’t gone anywhere.
So I asked, “What type of service would motivate you to download movies?” The most succinct answer came from Stuart, who wrote “free.” Others explained why movie downloads weren’t worth the hassle yet.
Ben Rimes, who blogs at the Tech Savvy Educator, said he’d prefer renting movies from the video store.
“Given my current lackluster ‘high speed’ connection through a leading cable company, it would literally be faster for me to run up to the corner video store, grab the movie I want and be back before the download was complete,” Rimes wrote. “And that doesn’t even begin to factor in time needed to burn said download to a DVD before being able to view it on my television. Unless of course, I’ve spent a large sum of money on a fancy media PC, a high quality television capable of handling the computer’s digital output (most bargain priced TVs at Best Buy and other retailers won’t do this), and then gone out of my way to set up the computer near the home entertainment center for ease of connection.”
Rimes brings up an important point, because bridging the PC/TV divide has been a longtime problem for home entertainment buffs. Rimes adds that downloading movies to own doesn’t make sense for him either.
“Either way, downloading movies would be a terrible hassle for my family, and expensive as well,” he wrote. “Most movies we want to see we typically see once. Movies we want to own are few and far between (perhaps we buck the national trend of movie buyers) so renting a movie makes much more sense economically for us than does purchasing the movie for repeated viewing.”
Perhaps the movie download services haven’t done a good enough job explaining their services, because both Movielink and CinemaNow do offer movie rentals, where you have to watch the movie in a window of time before the file expires. Still, that doesn’t fix Rimes’ problems with download speeds and bridging his PC to his TV.
J-Dub also was skeptical of a need for a movie-download service.
“I watch a lot of movies, 4-5 a week!” J-Dub wrote. “Most are older. I rent these two for one dollar, they don’t use any of my hard disk and the store is between me and my job. I don’t see any benefit to downloading movies at this time. I guess I am unusual in that I don’t even have cable TV. My TV is across the room from my computer so it would mean adding new cable. Perhaps if I could download directly to my TV, fast or streaming I would find it useful but not at this time.”
Some of you shared your bright ideas on how movie download services could meet your needs. Roberta Zouain, who blogs at pack2go, says there are three main issues — price, portability and technology.
“Starting from the latter, I’d like to see some kind of deal between my broadband ISP and the content provider, so that I could get better service and download speeds for using the service,” Zouain wrote. “This would reduce download time and improve my browsing experience…Secondly, portability is also important — I want to be able to watch the movie not only on my computer, but also on my TV, my iPod, my cell phone, etc. So I should be able to have my content on any format and whenever I want.
“It would also be a good idea to have my private backup disk online, too, so that if I’m on a business trip, for example, and I want to watch a movie, I could download it again and watch it easily with no need to carry backup CDs or storing many movies on my laptop. Least but not last…of course this would cost a maintenance price. In this case the best business model would be a monthly fee (since the backup server maintenance and ISP deal would have a fixed cost) + pay-per-download costs. It would be interesting to have some free downloads every now and then too (i.e. iTunes download of the week), even if it was for older movies. Payment forms would also be very important, so it’s very important to partner with local players to ease the payment process.”
Rimes shot back that having the ISP and content provider make a deal might lead to more added bandwidth costs, just as Net neutrality proponents have been arguing.
Meanwhile, Jordan had one of the more innovative ideas for movie downloads via TiVo.
“I would love to be able to download movies directly to my TiVo and then transfer them from there to the laptop, my PC, a blank DVD, whatever,” he said. “I would even be open to renting movies that downloaded straight to the TiVo and then stayed there for however long — I’d love to see a Netflix-type setup, where I can have X movies downloaded at one time, and once I mark one as ‘viewed,’ it gets removed from the TiVo and the next one in my queue downloads instantly.”
Doug Lockwood liked Jordan’s idea for movie downloads via TiVo as long as the movies download in the background. Otherwise, Lockwood says downloading movies is still a notion ahead of its time, and wants no part of it if it’s as frustrating of an experience as downloading music is.
“I have been so frustrated with downloading digital music that I’m starting to wish I never heard of an MP3 player,” Lockwood said. “I can’t stand having so many arbitrary restrictions on how I can use the files I’ve ‘bought’ that I simply won’t pay for any more. If downloading movies is anything like downloading music — requiring special software to view or buy the movie, restricting the number of machines I can view the movie on, being incompatible with different brands of players, and otherwise limiting how, when, or where I can actually use the file I’ve paid for — I’m not interested. I’d much rather buy a DVD, even if it costs a bit more, and actually own the movie, rather than paying for something that I can’t use anywhere and any way I want (without violating copyright laws, of course).”
And there’s the rub. These pay services for movies (and for music) need to be fairly priced and include flexible playback on various devices or people will just get frustrated and go to BitTorrent for free movie downloads. And that’s not a prospect that the studios and creators want.
Note: I’ll be taking time off for the July 4 holiday, but will be posting again to the blog on July 5. Enjoy your vacations, if you have the time off, and don’t forget to unplug!