Friday, July 5, 2013

The Digital Revolution (Is No Longer Being Televised)

I have been writing an awful lot about video games recently, but today I want to talk about something that has really bugged me about the television, movie, and video game industries for a very long time now: The idea of digital media and the Internet revolutionizing the way we consume and create media, and the media companies having none of that and still being wedded to "the old ways" of doing business, making money, etc.

The Internet has really come into its own as a digital content hub in the last few years.  We can now buy music, movies, TV shows, and video and computer games online, with the click of a button.  Problem is, if you are (like me) interested in catalog titles from the likes of Disney, Warner Bros., et al, it is difficult if not impossible to get catalog titles in this digital age.  We have great DVDs and Blu-Rays, but the experience on iTunes, Google Play, Netflix, Hulu, etc. is not at all the same. Not even close.

Sometimes you can buy TV episodes the day after, sometimes you have to wait.  But wait, you say, wasn't the whole idea behind the likes of iTunes to provide that very same content you got on the TV networks the day after they aired?  Yes.  Problem is, however, that many content providers have not had their feet held to the fire to hold firm to that promise.

Even worse, movies, TV shows, and most video games still use debilitating DRM, or digital rights management, because the parties involved are all concerned about piracy "hurting sales" (when their anti-consumer, anti-piracy efforts have actually hurt them in their pocketbooks a lot worse than piracy ever did).  There are a few bright spots in the anti-DRM fight, such as GOG.com (the anti-DRM store that is a Steam equivalent for PC titles), but these bright spots are only a small fraction of the industry's sales.

However, GOG.com has one humongous thing going for it: Customer loyalty due to tremendous goodwill.  This is largely not quantifiable in the slightest, but I believe very strongly that the movie, television, and video game industries need to take such a page from GOG.com, or even partner a lot more with GOG.com.  I use both GOG.com and Steam, but I'd rather buy my games from GOG.

I would very much rather buy my games from GOG.com because I know for a fact that they will never put DRM on any of their games, their customer support team is top notch (can't say that about Steam because I've never used their customer support and do not plan on such), and they offer the same price on all games they offer, and they offer all their titles worldwide, with no regional restrictions, all things I feel very strongly about.

So, what are the television and movie and video game industries doing wrong as of right now?  And what, if anything, can they do to engender the kind of loyalty that GOG.com has engendered amongst its users?

The movie industry still believes in slowly rolling out its movies across regions.  Most times nowadays every other nation in the world gets to see the latest movies BEFORE America, the home market for many of these movies.  Their catalog DVD sales have gone belly up, and new DVDs and Blu-Rays don't really get sales on a long-term basis because the MPAA has taken such a heavy anti-consumer stance against piracy that has actually hurt its legitimate consumers much more than it has hurt pirates.

Add on to that that Spielberg and Lucas said recently that the movie industry was on the brink of implosion, and you realize very quickly just how averse the movie industry is to making money.  I would argue that 99.9% of the "general audience" pictures, you know the ones with Owen Wilson, Ben Stiller, and those Judd Apatow movies that supposedly bring audiences in, would be so much better served as Internet-only movies. That way, they totally reel in their target audience (most of whom are really tech-savvy already), and those of us who think those movies sully the movie-going experience for everyone can avoid them like the plague, just like it always has been.

The TV industry is almost doing worse in this respect.  Cable and satellite subscriptions are slowly, steadily declining as more and more and more people can no longer afford the exorbitant rates that the cable and satellite companies charge for channels that NOBODY watches.  They are at least sort of embracing the Internet as a way to make some money off of cord-cutters like myself, but like the movie industry, they just seem horribly averse to making any money at all off the Internet.

I personally want to see subscription services that I can pay a certain amount of money a month for.  Like HBO Go, for instance.  I am voting with my wallet and not paying HBO any money at all until they give the people what it is that they want: HBO Go subscriptions without having to pay for exorbitantly expensive cable and satellite service.

The video game industry, thankfully, has done much better in this respect.  With the likes of GOG.com providing video games with no DRM, and Microsoft doing a 180 on its proposed DRM policies on the Xbox One, DRM is less of a problem with video games.  It's still a huge problem with the likes of SimCity and Diablo III, don't get me wrong, but it is much less of an issue in the video game space than in either the movie or TV industries.

So, what exactly should be done to either combat or limit the scope of piracy?  Firstly, provide a service that is better by far than what the pirates offer.  GOG.com learned this lesson from the get-go, offering amazing bonuses with their games that you would otherwise not get from games on BitTorrent or similar networks.  Second, do not, do not, do not treat your customers like pirates, or numbers, or anything like that.  The more you treat your customers that way, the more they will not give you any money at all.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, find a place like GOG.com that will offer ALL of your content without the slightest hint of DRM.  No "Disney Movie Club" that is an totally unreasonable business model in the 21st century, no "Warner Archive Collection" on unreliable CD-Rs, no "instant streaming" a la Netflix, I want you people to understand that outside of Hollywood and other big cities, many of our Internet connections do not have a hint of reliability, and thus we cannot feasibly USE always-online DRM schemes, Netflix, and the like.

We want to have our content the way WE want to consume it.  Allow me to paint you a glorious (hypothetical) picture of what the future could be like for movies, TV shows, and video games, IF you big media types decide to play along.  These examples are set in a post-DRM Internet, where the scourge of DRM is but a distant memory, and people talk about the history of the Internet in school and shake their heads at the idea of locking down content in that fashion.

Let's say, for instance, that I want to buy the latest Disney Star Wars movie.  I download it from iTunes on my computer as a DRM-free MP4 file, the bonus features download as a separate ZIP file, and everything is groovy.  I can then show that movie on a large projector if I am a teacher, I can put it onto a device of my choosing as something I can watch on the plane (because most planes, even in the day and age where DRM is a distant memory, still have no prospects of Internet connectivity while in-flight unless you pay an exorbitant fee), and I can watch that movie how, where, and in what fashion I want.  No Internet connection is required EXCEPT to download the files.

Now for another example.  Let's say, for instance, that I love this TV show called "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" and it has been given a whole new lease on life. Let's say for the sake of this example that I missed last night's Whose Line for whatever reason and I want to watch it, but I am traveling that day and my prospects of having any sort of stable Web connection are slim at best.

I download it from a relatively new store to this type of content, GOG.com, and download the DRM-free MP4 file.  I can then watch that episode while I am traveling, or when I get to my hotel room, where even in this day and age this hotel is charging exorbitant rates for a Web connection that is slow at best and sluggish at worst.  The fact of the matter is, I was able to watch this new episode of Whose Line without any stuttering, and the quality was top notch because it was playing from my device of choice.

And for my final example: Let's say that a new game comes out in the Monkey Island series.  The chances of that happening at the time I am writing this is slim at best.  Now, let's say that I happen to have this really cool new tablet type device that is an actual-facts computer, and said tablet device is the only full-fledged computer I'm going to have with me on my trip besides any of my other devices.

Now this example is a lot more exciting because I am buying this thing on GOG.com, as I buy all games of this type anymore, and the GOG.com purchase happens on my really swift new cellular Internet connection on this device, and I have a nice unlimited data plan on this device!  No longer do I need to contend with horrifically slow airport Wi-Fi, and the game downloads and installs itself automatically, with little to no interaction from me, as I sit at my gate, waiting to board the plane I'm taking for my cross-country flight home.

I get on the plane, and once I'm at cruising altitude over the continental US on my trip home, I start playing the new Monkey Island game I just bought at the gate.  And I happily play that new Monkey Island game all the time we're at cruising altitude.  And when I touch down at my home airport, I take the short drive home, and finish Monkey Island after I get home, unpack, and after I get myself into a comfy position.

This is a glorious future, but you big media types need to play along in order for this kind of glorious media future to become the reality we all live with each and every day.  I am very hopeful that as the media industry continues to embrace the Internet (albeit they need to do so a little bit quicker), that we creep ever so much closer to a reality that currently eludes us.