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THE MORNING BUZZ: What If They Gave A Party and Nobody Came?

14 Jan, 2002 By: Thomas K. Arnold

What if they gave a party and nobody came?

Studio executives must be asking themselves this question right now, as the viability of video-on-demand -- recessionary setbacks aside -- becomes a reality, both technologically and financially.

We've all heard of the various false starts and high hopes for the electronic transmission of movies, either via cable or over the Internet. We've heard grand plans and we've seen those grand plans either fall apart or get delayed.

But make no mistake about it. Any roadblocks electronic delivery and its Killer App, video-on-demand, are facing will eventually be overcome. That's not a threat, that's not idle speculation--that's reality. It may not be tomorrow, it may not be next year--heck, it might even be a decade, or a generation, away.

But even as we speak, more and more homes are being wired with high-speed lines of some sort. Digital cable, high-speed Internet access, fiberoptic phone lines--these are all means to an end, the end being the easy, economic piping-in of entertainment and information into Joe Everybody's home.

The capability for video-on-demand, then, is certainly coming. But whether consumers will want to take advantage of this capability, even when their homes are fully wired, remains to be seen -- and you can bet your bottom dollar some of the smartest minds in Hollywood are actively consulting with behaviorists in the hope of getting at least a clue as to how consumers will, well, behave.

The lines are being drawn. Will consumers bite--not now, but one day in the near/far-off future, when there's one set-top box that can, for the sake of argument, play DVDs with the flip of one switch and access an online "rental library" of thousands of movies with the other?

Will that be enough to get people to stop renting videos and transition the "pay for a viewing" business from the video store into the home?

The jury's out. Sometimes I think it will. But then I think about my last trip to the video store, where I saw three couples avidly reading the backs of video boxes to decide which movie to rent; where I saw kids pleading with Mom to let them rent a third video game; where I saw a bookish guy grab an armful of DVDs and tell the clerk "I just got a player and I want to watch as
many movies as possible."

Then, I'm not so sure.

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