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The Growing Dominion of Digital Distribution

25 Apr, 2016 By: Thomas K. Arnold


Back in 2011, when we launched our annual Digital Drivers feature in Home Media Magazine, our intent was to spotlight the executives behind the “transition from physical media to digital distribution,” according to a column I wrote back then introducing the new feature.

A lot has changed since then — to the point where there is no longer any transition. I don’t know of anyone who hasn’t streamed or downloaded a movie; moreover, to all of us, digital distribution is a habit, a way of life.

In our own family, we still watch a lot of movies and TV shows on disc, but invariably we will simply press a few buttons on the remote and chill with Netflix. If there’s been a change over the last year, it’s that we’ve broadened our scope. We watched season one of “How to Get Away with Murder” on Netflix, and then, for season two, alternated between Hulu and Amazon Prime, paying a $2.99 premium per episode to watch the newer shows in high-definition.

All three are competitors, but in our household they are simply ways to bring the entertainment we want to watch into the home, existing quite peacefully alongside both each other and the pristine Blu-ray Discs and DVDs we have filed away in our little walk-in “library” off the family room.

We have a wider, broader selection of programming than we’ve ever had, and while in our household at least we still consume new films on disc at a rapid clip, streaming has effectively replaced regular broadcast and cable television.

The digital transition, then, has already happened — and efforts in both the entertainment and technology industries are focused on making the experience even easier and more satisfying for the consumer. Of course, none of this is being done for altruistic purposes; on the content side, studios continue to experiment with ways to get people to buy more movies and TV shows online, since the transactional purchase model is a much better value proposition for Hollywood than third-party streaming.

Meanwhile, the cable industry is grappling with an announcement the FCC made in February about its new “Unlock the Box” campaign, which seeks to free consumers from having to rent a set-top box to get cable. The FCC wants to force cable operators to open up the set-top box market and let Google, Apple and other companies get in on the action. Just this month, Comcast announced its intent to do what Fortune calls an “end run around the FCC” by launching a new feature for its Xfinity service that will let consumers watch their cable through Roku streaming boxes and Samsung Smart TVs.

No, it’s never dull in digital distribution land — which is why the need for innovation and vision has never been greater.
 



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