Now that the dust is beginning to settle from the electronic revolution that’s changing the way we read and view entertainment, the agenda has become apparent. The plan has long been to get rid of physical objects; DVD sales flatlined because there were too many other ways of getting the same mainstream entertainment. ‘Mainstream’, because UK TV channels can’t sustain audiences for world cinema, independent filmmaking, monochrome movies or old films of any kind. So along came the Cloud, a storage system for high bit-rate sounds and visuals.
While Kindles and other e-readers actually expanded the entertainment universe, offering rare and rights-free literature unseen for decades, film and television has done exactly the opposite. A glance through the iTunes movie purchase choice – not a choice at all, as new tablets are missing optical drives – is a gruesome and depressing experience. Pricing is ridiculously excessive, with most films retailing for the same or considerably more than it would cost to own hard copies. Worse still is what’s actually on offer.
If you don’t want to watch Hollywood blockbusters and cartoon animals, you’ll be heading to the world cinema section. There you’ll find a bizarre bran-tub of titles, mispriced, mistitled and misgrouped – £10 films in the ‘Under £5′ section, Japanese under Brazilian, a sleeve that’s a different movie to the title on offer and so on. The choice reflects that of Sky channels – films that failed at the box office, random titles seemingly plucked from distributors’ catalogues for no discernible reason, parts of film series but not all, oddities and low budget remnants. Who on earth is going to pay £10 for ‘Confessions of a Pop Performer’? Why is the sequel to ‘Dr Phibes’ available but not the original?
All this would feel as if we’re being set up for yet another Lovefilm-style premium service creaming off the good stuff and leaving the so-called ‘free’ channels with the rubbish. It’s more likely that this is about the failure to strike deals for distributor back-catalogues, and the fact that Lovefilm is now entirely owned by Amazon, and is considered their premium home entertainment source. But if you’re not in the market for a subscription lending library and want to own films, what do you do? iPads have ben left with a strange landscape of unsaleable tat and premium kiddie films. This might be for another reason; Cloud storage is limited at the moment, and most hard drives aren’t big enough to clog up with movies.
The music industry was destroyed by a fatal failure to act quickly. Luckily the publishing industry responded fast, and has reached what appears to be a win-win situation with the general public. But the film industry, ever greedy, ever protective, is continuing to tear itself apart. The failure to provide potentially huge new technology with adequate product means that new habits won’t be learned; cinema lovers will remain in cinemas or will rent or buy DVDs, families will continue to negotiate the byzantine Sky system to watch a handful of choices rearranged a thousand ways, and kids – if their parents can afford it – will download rented blockbusters.
But the idea was to make the tablet as ubiquitous as the mobile. Demographics for tablets show a substantial part of the market made up of cash-flush older audiences, but instead of the holy grail of convergence, we’ll have a multitude of peripherals; phones, tablets, laptops, e-readers – each offering something different. For me, for now, I’m hanging onto those DVDs – especially as entertainment barons are getting ready to set new scales for the price of ‘borrowing’ movies.
Don’t just take my word for this. Check out the article here on iTunes.