Movies on Computers

April 11, 2006
A thought by James Berardinelli

Memo to the studios and the MPAA: The way to combat piracy is not to commit highway robbery.

What am I talking about? I'm referring to the new marketing strategy that has many movies being made available for broadband download on the same day/date they are released on DVD. On the surface, this sounds like a good idea. Until you realize that the price is going to be in the $20-$30 range.

There will come a time when DVDs will be a thing of the past - a nostalgic relic. In those future days, when we're in nusring homes and our grandchildren are making the corporate decisions, movies for home viewing will be stored electonically on massive hard drives, either locally or remotely. Sitting in front of a giant monitor/screen, consumers will have hundreds (or thousands) of titles available at the push of a button, all streamed in ultra high definition. But that's the future. It's not today.

How many people have integrated their computers and video set-ups? I'd wager there aren't many. Sure, some high end technophiles with a lot of money to burn have, but the majority of us still view computers as computers and TVs as TVs. DVDs are for watching on TVs. And downloaded video content is for watching on a computer monitor. Without going out on a limb, I can make an educated guess that most people's TVs are larger than their computer monitors.

According to the press releases associated with movie downloads, the movies cannot be copied onto a DVD for conventional play using a DVD player (one back-up copy is allowed). So, unless you're one of the 0.1% (or less) of consumers with your computer attached to your video system, you're SOL if you want to watch a downloaded movie on a screen larger than, say, 19". (Standard monitor size.)

I can see the value of having downloadable movies. It is the wave of the future, so why not start it now? Give people the option to download the films legally, watch them on their monitors, and transfer them to IPods (if they feel the need to watch them on postage-size screens). A reasonable price... Let's see... I-Tunes is offering 45-minute TV shows for $2. So maybe a full-length movie should retail for $4. I could see going as high as $5.

$20 isn't laughable, it's insane. Who's going to spend more money on a downloadable movie that they can only watch on their computer when they could get the same film on DVD from for less money. In addition to being able to view it on their TV, they can watch the special features (which don't come with the downloadable version). Whoever came up with the price-point for movie downloads must have lost touch with reality.

This is supposed to discourage piracy. After all, why would people steal movies if they are available for legal download? At $20 (or more) a pop, I'm sure consumers are going to gobble these up. They'll be as popular as fine china in Wal-Mart.

When people buy things, they like to think they have gotten a bargain. So will anyone be surprised when this venture fails?