iTunes: Nothing Here For The Cineaste

Great Britain, Media

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.

7 comments on “iTunes: Nothing Here For The Cineaste”

  1. Dan Terrell says:

    This is a good article, if you have iTunes and don’t many of us. Also, when you click to read it, you can also read two other interesting articles: one on Amazon vs. the big box store (or any store, perhaps) and the other about the Serbian vampire warning put out by a Mayor in that country! Stock up on garlic mates.

  2. Mike Cane says:

    One more thing to mention: Regional rights. What you have on a UK iTunes is not necessarily the same as US iTunes.

  3. Mike Cane says:

    Damn, should have added this: You might want to check out both Hulu and YouTube. Both offer movies, some quite interesting.

  4. snowy says:

    Dvds will stagger on for another couple of decades, cheap to make and fragile enough to wear out and need replacing. While people still want to physically browse the status quo won’t change. The reason the DVD case is bigger than needed is just to give enough space for the ‘backspin’ describing the film and all the credits. [And to create the impression that what you are buying is really worth £15+].

    Convergence will come eventually, the primary reason that Tablets don’t have optical drives just because they are a huge drain on batteries. The other reasons are space, and the noise generated by the spinning disc. [Theoretically the spinning disc creates a torque, that would twist the tablet in the users hands, but lets park that thought].

    Cloud storage is a wheeze dreamed up by some bright young things to challenge the current software monopolies. It’s not safe or secure, despite what those selling it will say. Its only advantage over backing up local data to another drive is that it is stored off site. In the right circumstances its easy to create ones own private ‘mini cloud’ that achieves the same end for a few hundred pounds. [A quick search says 1TB of mirrored storage will cost about £250 to set up].

    It’s very early days in the world of obtaining video content, at the moment it’s like the good/bad old day of early video stores, competing formats, a shortage of content (back them there was a staggering array of cheap Italian sword and sandal epics, for some reason), and a paralysing fear of piracy. It will work out in the end I’m sure. [There should be a sentence in these brackets, because like Wadsworth I like things to be ‘tidy’].

    For myself when I come home with a DVD (that I bought), it goes into a media server, it’s shrunk and copied over to a hard drive, while I eat dinner (or bother you lot on here) , and when I want to watch it, I just stream it by wifi to which ever device I’m using. [If anyone is pushed for space, An average film will shrink to under 1GB and not loose any noticeable quality when viewed in standard definition, Anyone with a massive HD screen, who knows, not me].

  5. Cat Eldridge says:

    Crane is right: the offerings are much deeper on iTunes USA than than they are on the other regional iTunes. Same is true for music — iTunes USA carries much, if not all of what iTunes France (to give an example) carries but the opposite is not true.

    And don’t be started me on regional ebook rights. Amazon UK has a ebook for Poul Anderson’s Orion Shall Rise but I can’t purchase it as some else, Baen Books most likely as they have back catalog, owns the rights here and hasn’t published one.

  6. Helen Martin says:

    Please, may I put in something which doesn’t belong here at all? I saw Miriam Margolyes last night doing Dickens’ Women and it was absolutely enthralling. She can make you see the invisible person she’s talking to or shift back and forth between speakers without confusing you for a moment. Some idiot left his mobile on so it rang a dozen times and at the end she thanked us “all except one” for listening so intently “because this isn’t easy stuff, you know.” She sold her new book from the stage and told us that it is cheaper on Amazon, “but you don’t get to meet me.” It was wonderful. Thanks to the people on this site who urged me to go. I got the very last two seats.

  7. Dan Terrell says:

    Stepping to the side, let me type this: The New York Times’ Book Section will list the ten best novels of 2012. Ms. Mantel’s “Bringing Up the Bodies” appears to be the first on the list. The Times’ asks can she do it again and it make a clean sweep?
    Back to the regularly scheduled discussion.

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