Watching through the windows

October 5, 2005

Apparently, some analysts believe ”the music business is evolving into a natural home for windows”. By windows they mean the gradual release of content, for example movies are available in theatres, DVD and then TV. In Australia we have the added disadvantage of a geographical window, further delaying releases in each form.

Let’s consider the “windows” for The West Wing (a current addiction for me):

  1. Shown on NBC in the US.
  2. Released to DVD in the US.
  3. Released to DVD in Australia.
  4. Available as overnight DVD hire.
  5. Available as 3 day DVD hire.
  6. Available as weekly DVD hire.
  7. TV broadcast in random order at variable, late night times (standard for sophisticated show on Australian free to air TV).

While this seems like a nice theoretical pecking order, there are some overlooked steps:

  1. Shown on NBC in the US.
  2. TV scrape available for free download via Bit Torrent (or other P2P technology).
  3. Released to DVD in the US.
  4. DVD rip available for free download via Bit Torrent (or other P2P technology).
  5. Released to DVD in Australia.
  6. Available as overnight DVD hire.
  7. Available as 3 day DVD hire.
  8. Available as weekly DVD hire.
  9. TV broadcast in random order at variable, late night times (standard for sophisticated show on Australian free to air TV).

Currently, the only way to watch season 6 or 7 in Australia is by P2P download. It is not yet available in video stores. Given a single hire contains about 8 episodes, even for season 5 (overnight hire), download or hire and rip to personal hard disk is the only practical way to watch.

Long term, the only way I can see “windows” working is if it is released in digital form first. I’m happy to pay, but I’m not happy to wait.

A digital release can be done sooner and at lower cost. There is no artwork or packaging to create. Demand can be gauged and built before the release of collectable physical versions. Fans will buy in digital form first (timely access) and then in physical form later (experience access).

Making digital copies the initial release adds to their value and discourages sharing. Asking a friend if I can rip an electronic copy from their physical copy costs them nothing, they still own the higher quality and more exclusive object. But, if the only copies available are in paid digital form, then asking for a copy reduces its exclusivity. Unfortunately the main concern here is normally the perception of a friend about their copy, not the rights of the artist or publisher.

So, if you are going to use windows, the most effective order would be:

  1. Hard to copy live performances.
  2. High quality digital release.
  3. Released in collectable, physical form.

Free copying of electronic content cannot be stopped. We have to assume that every DRM scheme will get broken, or scraping techniques so powerful that the content isn’t really protected.

So, the only way to monetise electronic content is by changing focus to the value of the content to the license holder rather than the artist or publisher. You need to make me less willing to give away my stuff. Here are my recommendations:

  1. Make digital versions the first release version.
  2. Lower the cost of digital versions reflect their production and distribution. No artwork, no packaging, less marketing, less transport.
  3. Brand digital copies as something else.

I was struck the other day by just how viable the digital alternatives have become. My $40/month internet connection can download from Australian sites at about 800kB/sec. A reasonable quality DVD rip is generally 800MB or less. Theoretically, I could download a DVD in just over 15 minutes (1000 secs). That’s less time than it takes me to get to the video store, let alone make a return the next day.

Using windows to release in different formats I can live with. Just don’t make me wait.

   
Comment by James Robertson on October 05, 2005 5:33 PM
Not forgetting that we can often purchase the DVD directly from the US before it's released to TV in Australia...

(The wonders of DVD players that are "chipped" by the store to work with any DVD region.)
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