Tuesday 17 June 2008

Video distribution: Good bye Blue Ray.

I had a discussion with a friend of mine lately about the greatly anticipated advent of HD movies on our TVs, now that the format wars between Blue Ray and ... uhm... the other one (was it HD DVD? Oh well, long gone...). While he owns a post production company with the finest Blue Ray authoring facilities in town, I have no specific preference for how or where I'll get my videos as long as it's in a manner that suits me. He was quite convincing in talking about how good those HD Blue Ray films are, and since he knows a lot more than me about the broadband industry as well, I listened to his argument that VOD in HD or any acceptable format is many years ahead of us.

Curious as I am, I had to look a bit closer at what the online video streaming offerings really are. Of course, we both believe that in spite of people consuming vast amounts of crappy quality videos on YouTube and possibly on their mobile handsets in the near future, there is a certain attraction in that finest of all video formats that hides behind the HD acronym.

However, I've noticed that while I own a bunch of DVDs of the old kind, they mostly lie in a box in my basement without being watched more than once. In fact, a lot of them are still shrink-wrapped.


Probably for a number of reasons, but mainly because it's so much more easy and practical to just watch something that's already on the telly, or since my telly is connected to my laptop, just stream something from one of the online VOD suppliers (SF Anytime being a major one in my market). If you're as lucky as to live within the US borders, both Hulu and Amazon offer plenty of content for you, both free and for a small fee. Or, you can just go directly to the webste for the show you like - The Daily Show, South Park and more offer you full episodes interrupted by short advertising breaks. (Yes, Google TV Ads or something similar will very quickly monetize those for all it's worth).

And while YouTube is still the Frankenstein Monster of online video quality, Vimeo offers HD quality video that streams instantly. If I'm more tempted by regular TV offerings I can always turn to Joost - with a fair bit of quality productions available. And both of these offer a social networking aspect that obviously cannot be parallelled by offline media. (Another discussion altogether).

I am absolutely not contesting the qualities of TV as a an entertainment medium, be it for TV shows or films. I do not expect any sharp decline in TV viewing rates, since we all like to sit down in front of the telly and watch with our friends and family.

However, the distribution model for everything that gets onto that screen is about to change, and I think the change will come very fast. The format wars between HD DVD and Blue Ray caused them both to miss the start of the race, and while Blue Ray is the only one left it will never really become more than a niche medium (hello, Long Tail...).

Keep in mind - television is what you watch when you are feeling too lazy for anything else. Which is why we'll be way to lazy to bother going out to buy or rent that disc when you can just hit a button, wait ten seconds and it's right there streaming in all it's HD beauty. Good bye Blue Ray, I'm sorry but by the time you got into the race we'd all moved to a different racetrack.

(...and since I've justs returned from a seminar discussing the future of digital TV distribution, let's have a little chat about the impact that VOD over internet will have on the broadcast industry - but not today!)

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