There was a post on The Apple Blog today that got me thinking. While I disagree with the conclusions that the author draws, I don’t think that this is a case of the usual blogoratti magical thinking. Rather, I think that there is some fundamental missunderstanding of the current market in video entertainment. The author puts forth the premise that iTunes, as well as streaming video services such as Netflix-streaming, and Amazon Unbox have a “glaring gap” compared with DVD/Blue-Ray when it comes to “additional content,” where by additional content we’re refering to things such as alternate endings, deleted scenes, etc. My take on this is that there isn’t a “gap” between iTunes et al and DVD/Blue-Ray; rather, iTunes et al and DVD/Blue-Ray are actually serving seperate needs.
VHS v.s. DVD, a Historical Perspective
Admittedly, this isn’t a direct analogy, but I think that it helps to illustrate my point. Odd as it may sound now, when DVD was first introduced there were pundits who claimed that it would fail to topple VHS as a force in the market. One of the reasons provided was that VHS was a read/write media; and people would not want to give up the ability to record TV shows, their annoying children, etc. The pundits making that claim made the mistake of not realizing that VHS was actually serving two needs, and that DVD was only aiming to supplant one of those needs. The two needs being delivery of pre-produced content and serving as a storage medium for time/place shifting and self-produced content. DVD, in it’s initial form, was only really seeking to serve the first need, the delivery of pre-produced content. And in that market DVD went on to dominate in short order. In the other areas that VHS served, it took other technological innovations to knock VHS off the map (a little company called TiVo comes to mind).
Instant Gratification v.s. Rich Experience
I would posit that, in a similar way that some pundits failed to realize that VHS was serving two needs, some of today’s pundits are failing to realize that there are two distinct needs being lumped together under “video entertainment.”
One need is the desire for what I’m calling “rich exprerience.” This is what, for the most part, is being met currently by DVD/Blue-Ray. This is the expectation that most consumers now have that when they buy a movie on physical media it will come with a host of additional content. This is an expectation that the content producers have encouraged, mainly becasue it makes them a crap-load of money. Want to make a quick couple million, take Star Trek, slap on some new commentary or documentaries, release as a “special edition,” watch the nerds whip out the credit cards.
The other need that exists in the video entertainment world is what I’m calling “instant gratification.” The best current example of services meeting this need currently is televison itself, along with the On-Demand services being offered by the cable companies and satellite providers. The essence of this model is, “I’m bored, what’s on now.” No one expects that the movie showing on HBO right now will come with extra features.
I’m arguing that, for the time being at least, iTunes, Netflix-streaming and Amazon Unbox are much better suited to the instant gratification model than the rich experience model. Now when I’m bored, instead of channel surfing to find something to amuse me I can fire up the AppleTV and rent a movie in a few minutes tops. If I like a movie enough to care about additional content, I can buy the disc or add it to my Netflix queue.
This difference is where I think that arguments comparing iTunes et all to physical media are bound to fail. The two models meet different needs, and they’re both ideally suited to those needs. Attempts to force iTunes and company into the rich experience model are only destined to fail. Will this change in the future? Quite possibly. As bandwith and storage capabilities increase for the average consumer, we may one day see a world where physical media has been supplanted by networked downloads. But, in the words of my old friend Maximus Decimus Meridius, “Not today.”