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Consumers Dictate Format Options

20 Sep, 2012 By: Thomas K. Arnold


Is our industry moving too fast? Are we overwhelming the public with different ways to consume our product, leading to confusion, cannibalization and maybe even inertia?

Taking an honest look at things, I’d have to say the answer is yes — and no.

Yes, because we’re pushing so much onto consumers that each delivery method not only suffers from a lack of attention and nurturing on our end, but it never really has time to mature and realize its potential.

Back at the start of what I call the “home entertainment-on-demand” era, we really only had one delivery method: the humble videocassette, which broadcast and cable television aside pretty much reigned supreme from 1978 to 1997.

Sure, there was laserdisc, but that was a sideshow. The main attraction was the trusty old VHS, and for nearly two decades the only way consumers could bring movies into the home and watch them at their convenience was on cassette.

Then came DVD, which in a brilliant stroke of marketing – immediate availability not just as a rental, but also as a low-priced purchase item – expanded our industry at an annual growth rate in the double digits.

But whereas VHS had a 19-year reign, DVD’s heir apparent, Blu-ray Disc, appeared in stores just nine years later. And if people say Blu-ray has never reached the dizzying heights of success its predecessor, DVD, has, I’d say you’re perfectly right — but then again, it never had a chance.
For one thing, Blu-ray Disc players were backwards compatible, which effectively negated the whole concept of consumers having to rebuy their movie libraries. Those libraries were built on DVD and its low-price purchase model; Blu-ray Disc was merely a better disc, not a completely new format.

But just as significant in Blu-ray Disc’s slower-than-expected climb is the fact that all sorts of other delivery systems began popping up in the electronic world, especially streaming and video-on-demand. Factor in Hulu and iTunes and then, for good measure, throw in all the non-traditional, non-studio content that can be accessed through YouTube and elsewhere on the web.

I’d say Blu-ray is doing pretty damn well, considering what it’s up against.

But going back to my original question — while we may have overwhelmed consumers with choices, we really couldn’t have done anything else. Digital delivery didn’t just appear overnight, with some dark lord mandating consumers to begin streaming and downloading. No, this whole electronic model was driven by these very same consumers, who on a never-ending quest for all things cheaper, easier and more convenient ultimately would have figured out some way to get movies over the Internet for free, like they did back in the late 1990s with music.

Thank God the studios and their tech and CE compadres had the foresight to step in and respond to consumers before consumers went vigilante on us and took matters into their own hands.

So, yes, we may be moving a little too fast. But the consumer is right behind us, breathing down our necks. And really, if you think about it — what else could we, should we, do?



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