Saturday, May 23, 2009

Why there is no iTunes for movies

I listened to Why there is no iTunes for movies by Farhad Manjoo on the Slate Magazine podcast with a wry smile: there is no iTunes for music or audio books in South Africa either, let alone movies.
As it turns out, the reason why there is such a dismal collection of downloadable movies online has nothing to do with the technology required, and everything to do with the lawyers. Not the ones suing the Pirate Bay (what a bunch of grandstanding fools) but the ones who draw up the distribution contracts for movies.
"When I called people in the industry this week, I found that many in the movie business understand that online distribution is the future of media. But everything in Hollywood is governed by a byzantine set of contractual relationships between many different kinds of companies—studios, distributors, cable channels, telecom companies, and others. The best way to understand it is to trace what you might call the life cycle of a Hollywood movie, as Starz network spokesman Eric Becker put it to me. We all understand the first couple of steps in this life cycle—first a movie hits theaters and then, a few months later, it comes out on DVD. Around the same time, it also comes out on pay-per-view, available on demand on cable systems, hotel rooms, airplanes, and other devices. Apple's rental store operates under these pay-per-view rules, most of which put a 24-hour limit on movies. The restriction might have made sense back in the days when most people were getting on-demand movies in hotel rooms and the studios didn't want the next night's guest piggybacking on rentals. It doesn't make much sense when you're getting the movie on your MacBook. But many of the contracts were written years ago, and they don't reflect the current technology.
"A movie will stay in the pay-per-view market for just a few months; after that, it goes to the premium channels, which get a 15- to 18-month exclusive window in which to show the film. That's why you can't get older titles through Apple's rental plan—once a movie goes to HBO, Apple loses the right to rent it. (Apple has a much wider range of titles available for sale at $15 each; for-sale movies fall under completely different contracts with studios.) Between them, Starz and HBO have contracts to broadcast about 80 percent of major-studio movies made in America today. Their rights extend for seven years or more. After a movie is broadcast on Starz, it makes a tour of ad-supported networks (like USA, TNT, or one of the big-three broadcast networks) and then goes back to Starz for a second run. Only after that—about a decade after the movie came out in theaters—does it enter its "library" phase, the period when companies like Netflix are allowed to license it for streaming. For most Hollywood releases, then, Netflix essentially gets last dibs on a movie, which explains why many of its films are so stale.
"Couldn't the studios just sign new deals that would give them the right to build an online service? Well, maybe—but their current deals are worth billions, and a new plan would mean sacrificing certain profits for an uncertain future. Understandably, many are unwilling to take that leap."
Instead, they are throwing away millions by giving money to the MPAA and the RIAA to chase after "profits" that they are too stupid to make for themselves. The same applies to Audiobook publishers who refuse to sell me their books because I have the "wrong" address. I guess if I made my address c/o thepiratebay.org they still wouldn't sell me their books. They need to read or listen to "Content" by Cory Doctorow to change their minds before they lose their jobs. Frankly, I couldn't give a damn if they lose their jobs. Perhaps then the authors would get a better deal.

1 comment:

abraxas said...

I'm a pirate ... so we have very different perspectives.

But i do like this post, and the insight.

peace ;-)


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