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Monday, June 05, 2006

Blockbusted! Movie rentals of today—and tomorrow

Those crazy cats at Arstechnica took a look at all the mediums for getting movies. Hilarity ensues:

Final thoughts

What we have today is a hierarchy of services that are good at different things, but none that will do everything and wash your dishes. Retail stores that happen to sell videos can be good for stressed-out soccer moms and dads who just want to pick up a movie while buying underwear and groceries. Video stores can serve video game freaks better than movie buffs, but I suppose there's some value in the store browsing experience, and the ability to drop by and pick up a quick hit anytime counts for something too. Call it a second-best quickie solution.

The rental-by-mail services, whichever one you prefer, play an entirely different role. If you just like movies, want a steady supply, but don't really choose movies on the spur of the moment, they can serve you well. It's the widest selection of titles available anywhere today, and you can just set your queue and forget it until it runs dry.

Download services have potential, and if you're HTPC-equipped already, this might just be your ticket to entertainment nirvana. If you're not, forget about it for another couple of years, then check back to see if DRM terms have been relaxed or office-to-livingroom PC-to-TV streaming gadgets have become mainstream. But even then, the catalogs our darling download services are offering up now don't hold a candle even to the anemic video stores. A major Hollywood clue-bat smacking is in order so that the digitizing and reasonable licensing of all that sweet content can happen.

The same caveat goes for VOD: there's just not enough content out there. But it's somewhat forgivable in this case, as the business model and technology behind VOD are still being hammered out and taking shape. It really is the ultimate in convenience, and there's certainly a bright future here. If I had to choose between VOD or Vongo making it to the big time, I'd pick on-demand services every time. The download services could emulate the cable company's on demand, of course, by tying their own services to set top boxes.

But we're way out of Video Business 101 now, and it's up to the movie industry to lead the charge into an on-demand future. They had better—they are the ones that stand to lose the most if change isn't forthcoming.

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