Digital Distribution a Reality
Over the last few years the speed of our Internet connections has increased and many companies have removed download limits. These moves make it possible for entertainment to be sold online and downloaded directly onto our computers. The games industry was quick to see the potential and services like Steam have been building a consumer base selling directly downloaded copies of games. After the explosion in illegal music downloads the music industry belatedly jumped onboard and there are loads of services such as iTunes offering directly downloadable content for a fee. The movie industry is sadly lagging behind.
Thanks to bittorrent technology which allows peer to peer sharing of files the illegal downloading of movies is commonplace. This same technology is used for illegally distributing music and games. However, when it comes to legal alternatives the film industry has been slow to adapt and the current models on offer are expensive and shoddy. Even if you search for legal movie downloads you will find services in short supply, especially outside of the US.
Downloading Music and Games
With legal music downloads you can download a track and it is yours to keep. You can copy it onto your devices and listen to it whenever you want. The fees involved vary but there are many cheaper alternatives to iTunes and many services which sell tracks in a range of formats. On the whole music is available more cheaply than in the shops. When it comes to games, services like Steam allow you to purchase your game, download it onto as many machines as you want and play it whenever and wherever you want. The only limitation is that you can’t play it on separate machines at the same time. In effect Steam holds an online library of your games for you. You can delete a game from your hard drive and then reinstall it a year later if you want. Once again, on the whole, prices are cheaper than retail.
So What about Movies?
When it comes to movies you can download copies which you own through services such as iTunes or BoxOffice365.com. Rental services like Netflix and LoveFilm are also starting to offer some films as streaming downloads. The problem is the pricing. Films you buy or rent are actually more expensive to download or stream online than they are at retail or from rental outlets. To make matters worse the quality is awful, often VHS quality and the catalogue of available titles is woefully small.
Film Companies Slow
It seems that many of the big film companies are reticent to allow their films to be distributed in this way. They are most concerned with copy protection. They seem to be missing the point entirely. Their films are already being pirated. If they expect people to turn to legal sources for downloading then they need to make them attractive. Both the music and games industry suffers just as badly, if not more, from illegal downloads and their solution is to make the legal alternative relatively pain free. They have also wisely chosen to pass along the manufacturing saving. It stands to reason if you don’t need to buy a disc, burn the movie on it, print a label and box the package before shipping it off to a retailer to sell for you that it should be cheaper. Why are they offering downloadable films for the same prices as DVDs in store?
They are also developing ridiculous copy protection software which prevents you from copying the film you bought onto more than one portable device. So what happens when I get a new portable video device or the old one breaks? I’m expected to pay for the film again. These security measures don’t work anyway. Your standard film fan may not have any idea how to rip a protected movie but you can be damn sure someone in the world does and when they do they’ll make it freely available via peer to peer file sharing which will spread it everywhere. I can't help feeling that there must be a better way to deal with the problem than focusing on ever more restrictive copy protection.
Legal Online Movie Rental
The legal online rental options are the worst. As anyone with a less than perfect Internet connection will know, trying to watch a streaming movie can be an exercise in frustration. Stopping, starting, jerky pixelated frames, because the higher the quality the harder it is to stream. Unless you have a high speed connection you probably aren’t going to enjoy streaming movies because your broadband is simply not good enough. Considering the quality of the footage is lower and the functionality is far worse than a DVD in your machine why do they think it is acceptable to charge the same price?
Film Industry Needs to Embrace Digital Distribution
It makes sense for legal movie downloads to be developed further. The possible convenience is undeniable and web speeds will continue to improve. Personally I’d love an online film library which worked like the Steam system but I won’t pay premium prices when the quality is so lacking. Digital distribution is the way forward for the entertainment industry and it is about time that the film companies realized it and embraced the new medium. What is clear is that no-one has found the right solution yet but you can be sure the company that nails legal film downloads and gets consumers interested stands to make a fortune.
What is your experience with legal movie downloads? Has anyone found a service they are happy with? Please post in the comments if you have something to add.
- iTunes, http://www.apple.com/uk/itunes/what-is/store.html
- DVD image by author.