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United We Stand

24 Apr, 2015 By: Thomas K. Arnold

Going it alone in the home entertainment business has never been a good idea. Back in the early days of home video, VHS triumphed over the far-better Betamax primarily because JVC, which designed VHS technology, was willing to license it to other manufacturers. Sony refused to share; only in the late 1980s did the company finally agree to license Betamax to other manufacturers, but by then it was too late: VHS had an overwhelming market share.

The home video market grew and prospered regardless of this disharmonious start, but I fear that’s something of an exception. The home video market gave consumers unprecedented control over their viewing choices, something they had never had before, and it grew rapidly largely because the proposition was so enticing and there was no real competition. Pay-per-view was still in its infancy, and the on-demand factor that really propelled home video’s fortunes was still a pipe dream.

Today’s home entertainment landscape is much more fragmented than it ever was. Consumers have all sorts of options for viewing movies, TV shows, and other programs on demand — when they want to watch it, where they want to watch it, how they want to watch it. And the proliferation of screens — remember, for years, the home TV was the only conduit to watch something, regardless of whether it was delivered on a cassette (and then disc), cable, satellite, or broadcast — has only intensified the competition even more.

The only constant, really, is this: The content owners, chiefly the studios, would much prefer consumers buy a copy of the movie or TV show rather than stream it (or, back in the day, rent it). It’s a clean, finite transaction — and a lot more profitable.

The studios have done a great job, driving ownership, through a series of innovations that focused on the two key factors driving consumer demand in this business:  easy and cheap. First came DVD, priced low out of the gate to encourage sales and, with random access, so much easier to watch than a videocassette (no need to rewind). Then came Blu-ray Disc, a qualitative improvement, followed by Digital HD.

Getting people accustomed to buying movies electronically rather than in physical form was made all the more challenging by the emergence of low-cost streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime. And yet it can be argued that the ease of streaming has opened up consumer eyes to the wonderful world of digital distribution — and through incentives like early windowing and saving hot new releases for purchase it’s only a matter of time before the studios establish a viable sellthrough business.

UltraViolet only makes the value proposition all the more enticing. The concept of a digital “locker” where your purchased content lives on forever, and may be accessed at any time, on any device, is a sweet proposition. It eases the transition from disc to download, and at the same time acts as a safety net. Even if you lose or break the disc, or your hard drive crashes and takes down your movie library with it, the content you bought is yours forever.

If there’s one fly in the proverbial ointment, it is this: While all the major studios and many independents are part of the UltraViolet consortium, Walt Disney Studios is conspicuously absent, insisting on going it alone with Disney Movies Anywhere, a proprietary alternative to UltraViolet.

That needs to change. Now, more than ever before, is the time to be a team player — to stand united as the industry transitions from packaged media into the digital space, with a viable purchase proposition to counter the proliferation of streaming options.

Disney Movies Anywhere is certainly a great technology, but it’s only one studio. UltraViolet could be the home entertainment industry’s Balm of Gilead, but it needs universal support.

Why not figure out a way to merge the systems?

Have we forgotten that old statement, united we stand?

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About the Author: Thomas K. Arnold

Thomas K. Arnold

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