Monday, October 5, 2009

When will movies be iPodded?

Homer: There can only be one truly great music festival a lifetime, and it's the Us Festival.
Record Store Clerk: The what festival?
Homer: The Us Festival! Yeesh! It was sponsored by that guy from Apple Computers.
Record Store Clerk: What computers?
This was from a 1996 episode of "The Simpsons," and very accurately represents the state of Apple at the time. Windows was beyond dominant, and Apple was little more than a distant memory of green screen graphics and "Oregon Trail." But after the '90s, Apple built itself up to being one of the largest corporations in the world. How did they do it? With the iPod.

That may be a reductive argument, but it's essentially true. Apple didn't make the first mp3 player, but they made the best one. They made it compatible with Windows, which greatly expanded their market. And once Windows users started getting used to an Apple device and Apple software (iTunes for Windows) on their computers, more of them started looking into owning other Apple products. Now, Apple computers are in more homes, and the iPod is so ubiquitous that no one even tries to find an alternative music player.

These are the reasons I was so excited, back in 2006, when Apple announced their new digital media receiver, the Apple TV. Basically built as an intermediary between your computer and your TV, the Apple TV was meant to encourage people to buy movies from the iTunes Store just as they'd been buying music. DVDs would become a thing of the past, as CDs had before them. The future had arrived! Media would no longer be exchanged using a hard format! Apple TV was the iPod of the motion picture!


So, three years later, why are we still swapping discs?

When we all got our iPods, the first thing we did was sit in front of our computers with our CD collections and transfer the music we already owned over to our new music player. No such luck with DVDs. The studios, scared to death of piracy, are not allowing software makers to break the copy protection code on DVDs. Committing to a disc-free movie library would mean starting from scratch and re-buying all the movies you already own. We already went through that a decade ago when we switched from VHS to DVD. Asking us to do it again so soon -- especially when we know our computers could convert DVDs for free -- is an insult.

In the last two years, people have been told they should upgrade to HDTV, have been forced to convert to digital broadcasting, have been offered two different types of high definition discs, and have been told that most of their favorite movies and TV shows are available for free, legal streaming via various websites. Can you blame a person for being confused? None of these alternatives to DVD has pulled ahead as the new dominant format, so nobody knows what to commit to. As a consequence, not only is there no new market leader, but sales of DVDs have also dropped dramatically because nobody trusts that they'll be around for much longer. Hollywood's fear of piracy is paralyzing its own progress.

If we hadn't been allowed to easily and legally convert our CDs to mp3, it's very possible that the iPod and Apple as a company would not be where they are now. The iPod would have died out from lack of interest, the iPhone never would have happened, all these people making money via the App Store would be nowhere... A whole train of progress would have been capped at the knees, and the world would have a little less awesome in it.

Hollywood is engaged in an ongoing tug-of-war with new media. For every episode of a TV show put on Hulu, there's a copyright infringement removal on YouTube. Until Hollywood gets over its fear of new media, the market will continue to be confused and scattered. There's no question what people want: cheap, simple, instant access to movies and TV shows. And until the content producers provide it themselves, people will continue to turn to piracy.

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1 comment :

  1. I agree that the Apple manufactures one of the best music players in the world and their quality of computer products have also become really good in past few years.

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