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Cheap and Easy

12 Jun, 2015 By: Thomas K. Arnold

If we’ve learned anything over the last half-century, it is that consumers love choice.

They also tend to choose things that are cheap and easy.

When I was growing up, it was on the tail end of the three-network universe. Our entertainment-viewing schedules revolved around their broadcast schedules, and if we didn’t like it about the only alternative was watching old “Flash Gordon” serials on one of the handful of non-network stations our rabbit-ear antennas would allow us to watch.

We jumped at the chance for more control over what we watched, more choices — which gave birth to first cable and then, in the late 1970s, home video.

Home video, at the start, was cheap, and relatively easy. You could rent a movie for a couple of bucks a night, but you had to go to a video store — and then bring it back the next day, lest you incur ruinous “late fees.” And if you happened to have the collector gene, you had to wait six months, maybe more, for the movie to be available for sale to consumers. Oh, sure, you could buy new movies for about $65 to $100, but that didn’t pass the “cheap” test — so very few people did.

Since then, every innovation that has caught on with consumers has expanded their menu of choices — and it’s been either cheap, or easy, or both. With DVD, you no longer had to rewind, and you could buy movies for less than $20 right when they were released, with no six-month wait. With Netflix, you got your movie in the mail — no return trip necessary and, hence, no grim specter of late fees hanging over your head. And let’s not forget about Redbox, which let you check out a movie as you’re leaving the grocery store — and bring it back when you run out of milk or toilet paper.

With advances in technology, we saw things get even easier, and cheaper. Netflix ushered in the era of OTT, where for less than $10 a month you can watch a good-sized haul of old movies, newer ‘B’ movies, or TV shows. If you want to watch newer, first-run movies, you can buy them over the Internet, as digital downloads, or pick up a Blu-ray Disc at the local Walmart.

We have never had so many choices, and our choices have never been cheaper — or easier.

That’s why it irks me to no end when I hear people say things like “discs are dying” or “Netflix is taking over the world,” or other misguided pronouncements like that.

It’s all home entertainment, and each sector of the business — physical discs, streaming, electronic sellthrough (or Digital HD) — plays a crucial role in the palette of choices this industry has given consumers.

Consumers get to decide which format, which delivery method, works best for them. And invariably, it will be a mixture — we’ll watch Joyride 3 on Netflix one night, and then buy a disc or download of American Sniper the next. We might spend two weeks binge-viewing “Breaking Bad” and then take a break and watch nothing but first-run movies for the next eight or nine nights.

So let’s stop talking about dying formats and competition and cannibalization, and realize that to the consumer it is, quite simply, all about choice. 

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