Confusion Reigns in Content Delivery8 Sep, 2006 By: Stephanie Prange
With Wal-Mart, Apple and Amazon poised to join an exploding crowd in the digital-delivery arena, and the two high-definition camps locked in mortal combat, entertainment content couldn't possibly get more confusing for the consumer. It will increasingly be a game of which format can deliver most conveniently and expeditiously for a strong niche of consumers.
While the online delivery folks seem determined that digital distribution will become mainstream, I can't see certain segments of the population dithering over whether they can burn a DVD playable on their current DVD hardware or whether it will only play on the computer. With certain folks, if it doesn't work the first time, they'll be unlikely to return. Getting the content to the TV in any other manner requires a degree in electronics, or a visit from the Geek Squad.
However, if the online delivery services can show a strong niche among young computer-savvy consumers, such as college students, they'll have a good, if not truly mainstream, market.
The high-definition arena, on the other hand, has the advantage of consumers' familiarity with packaged media. Blu-ray and HD DVD look like DVDs and load like DVDs — a format with a proven and very successful track record among consumers. Unfortunately, the two formats' very similarity to DVD make them a confusing alternative. I'm sure many a consumer will put a Blu-ray or HD DVD disc in their DVD player and be frustrated it doesn't play. With time, that confusion may be overcome, but the road ahead will likely be very rocky.
Packaged media also suffers from its own success. DVD is a pretty good format, and consumers won't likely replace their entire collections with the high-definition alternatives. DVD may coexist with alternatives much longer than VHS did.
What none of these new content-delivery systems seem to be able to do is offer many hard consumer numbers. Even digital delivery promoters characterize that market as tiny, but growing. High-def format supporters stress that they are in the early stages of that launch, with no firm numbers.
Could it be that consumers are too confused to bite?