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Other Formats Gaining Attractive New Features

11 May, 2004 By: Holly J. Wagner

If you don't feel cable, satellite and video-on-demand breathing down your neck yet, it may just be luck.

The satellite and cable providers are increasingly luring customers with personal video recorders (PVRs) and, regionally, video-on-demand (VOD).

VOD isn't really practical for satellite providers, which must beam a signal to a lot of homes simultaneously. The closest they can get is the 24-hour pay-per-view (PPV) window or a PVR, which they are putting into homes just as fast as they can. I have DirecTV, and they are running a promotion now to get more customers onto TiVo. DISH Network has a similar device for its customers.

DirecTV, by the way, has a new ad featuring a guy on both sides of a split screen talking to himself. He talks all about how late fees and return trips drain the value out of rental. He talks about the space and money it takes to maintain a DVD collection. Make no mistake, these companies are intent on convincing customers they are better than DVD.

Up to now, most video dealers have largely pooh-poohed the impact, but I think it's starting to show. An article last week in the Port Orchard (Wash.) Independent lamented that the Cinema One video store was going out of business after 20 years. The owner, Diane Launius, was quoted as citing the effects of “new technology” and Netflix. In a post on our discussion board this week, one dealer lamented that a couple of young guys were in his store writing down movie titles — just so they could go home and add them to their Netflix queue.

If all that weren't enough, the companies that make set-top boxes are doing all they can to make them even more attractive. If you thought PVRs were the “It” technology for a decade, hang on. At last week's National Cable & Telecommunications Association's National Show, Scientific Atlanta was showing off its in-home video network, which includes a multi-room PVR setup and an HD PVR.

But wait, there's more! Motorola and AgileTV had the new killer app: a broadband set-top that responds to voice commands. No more remote control, just tell the box what you want with phrases like “find The Sopranos” or “find movies with Julia Roberts.” The other day when I was trying to recall the name of one of the better recent werewolf movies, that would have been great. Instead of giving fuzzy scene and plot descriptions to another werewolf movie fan, I could have requested werewolf movies and remembered Dog Soldiers in half the time. And I can hardly wait until I can tell my TV goodnight and have it shut itself off. To keep up with that, someone will have to come up with a DVD player that takes the disc back to the store.

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