On April 10th, 1912 the British passenger ocean liner RMS Titanic was launched on her maiden voyage from Southampton, UK, sailing for her destination port in New York City. It was a grand affair, and one that was touted to usher in a new age of megaships, particularly for her creator, shipping company White Star Line. Yeah well… that didn’t happen. We all know that just 4 days later the Titanic hit a nasty iceberg, sank into the depths of the Atlantic, took the lives of 1,502 passengers with her, and led to an incredibly successful and melodramatically annoying blockbuster film 85 years later. We’ll get back to this Titanic bit of stuff later on…
101 years since that maritime disaster I’ve been a happy Apple fanboy (more or less) who’s been enjoying my semi-regular iPhone updates since the launch of the first one back in 2007. The beautiful industrial design and production machinery of each successive iPhone has been better than the last, the iOS operating system has kept it super simple while making regular smart updates, and the entire ‘it just works’ ecosystem between my iPhone, MacBook, iTunes (despite some animosity), and my iPad kept my Apple life a pretty happy one.
Despite my bliss, I’d occasionally wonder about all the Android fuss that claimed the loyalty of various friends and colleagues. While in the beginning I was in the strong majority of iPhone users, over the past few years I’d see more and more start to depart for Android pastures. Most would snap up Samsung offerings (particularly of the Galaxy S II, III, or now IV line) while a few would take up residence with other Android smartphone makers like LG, Acer, Asus, Motorola, and even… HTC.
By late 2012 I was still holding on to my iPhone fiercely– defending the higher cost for higher quality, the versatility of its App functions, widespread appeal and recognition, etc. etc… But my iPad started to lose the arguments game. I loved my 64 GB WiFi iPad 2, even holding onto it well into the release of 3 new iPad models. At some point, however, I realized I was just using it for eBooks, simple email, and occasional movie or Lakers game watching (via the Time Warner Cable SportsNet app). Was a 9″ screen really worth a $500 (or in this case $700 for the 64 GB model) price point? I decided to wade into the Android waters by selling my iPad 2 and snapping up (justifying it as a holiday gift to myself) a Google-branded Nexus 7 for just $199… Well technically just $179 since it was a brand new one via eBay. I thought about an Amazon Kindle Fire HD (similar to the non-HD version I bought my wife), but I wanted some iPad level functionality and customization the Kindle Fire HD just didn’t provide.
Anyway, It was a bit awkward at first, transitioning from an all Apple interface to an all Google one, but once you really embrace the fact that most of your core uses (email, calendar, file sharing, navigation) are really Google powered, then it wasn’t that bad. I came to love widgets, and the 7″ screen size wasn’t an issue, especially with such great physical and pixel quality built in. The size was even better for traveling, and wayyyyy better for reading eBooks than I thought possible with a 9″ iPad. The iPad mini came out a bit later, but at $330 it was just a tad more bang for way more buck. I soon didn’t miss my old iPad at all, and even today I love seeing the quick widget updates, playing with the different Android settings, and switching between my eBooks, Flipboard news, and YouTube video viewing super quickly with my Nexus 7 tablet.
And then there was the smartphone issue. My loyalty to Apple really solidified with the purchase of my first iPhone around 2007 or 2008… and I followed up with buying an all aluminum MacBook right after finishing up grad school (recently covering it up in all carbon black casing). Even thinking about transitioning to Android sounded like heresy! So I kept saying no thanks and would keep pointing out the limitations of the splintered Android offerings smartphone-verse. This one’s too slow, that one’s too ugly, this doesn’t have sounds as good as the iPhone, that one has terrible battery life compared to the latest iPhone. Etc. etc. Samsung kept grabbing Android markets hare, but every model they spat out was just too crummy for my snobby iPhone mindset.
Then HTC decided to show up and create the non-iPhone, iPhone. After playing catch up for years to big brother Samsung, HTC was looking like it had to knock one out of the park if it wanted to avoid getting crushed in 2013. The company’s past phones were always short on one this or another, and it never made too much of a dent in the Android community beyond a very niche core. With Apple kicking ass, Microsoft off walking into a wall with it’s Windows phones (seriously Microsoft, just GIVE IT UP), and Samsung consolidating all of the Android lands, HTC and its president Peter Chou stuck its reputation, its life, and its future on a new flagship model– the HTC One.
When I saw pre-release pictures of the HTC One I got super excited for it, as if THIS was the next iPhone. It had a larger screen, a smooth aluminum (or anodized black, my preference) roundish backing, dual FRONT speakers, IR output for controlling your TV, and a cool Flipboard-feature called BlinkFeed for news and updates junkies like myself. I would keep reminding myself, this was NOT an Apple smartphone, it was an Android phone. Would I be ready to make the jump? To say goodbye to iOS with the seemingly meaningless limitations and dive headfirst into the unknown of Google’s Android phones?
I wasn’t quite sure so I had to play with it at an AT&T (my carrier) store. So I went in and played with one for a few minutes… Then I went back a few days later… and again a few more… and did so for nearly 4 weeks. Always playing with more of the features, getting accustomed to the Android OS that was somewhat familiar but somewhat different than the iPhone world I’d been in for almost 6 years. I kept playing with them, kept getting intrigued, kept loving the feel and appeal. I even did the financial breakdown of what I could get for my iPhone 5 on eBay and what the HTC One would cost me. After working it out with AT&T over the phone they ditched any early upgrade costs and penalties, and I decided to order the black HTC One to replace my still great iPhone 5. The new device arrived just 2 days later, and I set about backing up my iPhone 5 to iTunes, activating the HTC One, and using the HTC Sync Manager to copy my contacts, settings, music, and photos over to the new Android smartphone I just got. I was super excited about what this frontier would be like. Having an Android tablet and smartphone, and just an Apple laptop left. Crazy but interesting to see how letting Google run the show would turn out…
Then I started having a few quibbles… Then a few more. The settings wouldn’t work the same way I thought they would… Certain apps bugged me in how they ran, and the general interface interaction of Android (not just the HTC Sense skin) was a bit… unintuitive compared to iOS. The widgets I loved on my Nexus 7 tablet were more of a bother than a help on the HTC One, even with the larger 4.7″ screen (compared to the iPhone 5’s 4″ screen). The dual speakers with Beats By Dre BoomSound were great, but unless using the rest of the device was a joy I just didn’t care. I found making calls a hassle, and the Gmail app on iOS was WAYYYYY more sleek, simple, and beautiful than the one on an Android device. I couldn’t use the great Fantastical calendar app I had on my iPhone, and after an hour I stopped using BlinkFeed in favor of trusty Flipboard.
I was starting to worry that I had made a pretty big mistake, and one I might not be able to back out of. I kept trying to love the device, but other than its gorgeous physical look and feel there just wasn’t enough in the Android OS on a smartphone to keep me happy. I missed my iPhone and wanted it back, working (somewhat) as a phone and more! I got AT&T on the line, and within 20 minutes they assured me all was well, I could return the HTC One to them and they switch my iPhone 5 back on. PHEW! No extra fees, no charges, nada. In less than half an hour I went back to my iPhone world and it was as if that HTC One nightmare never happened.
So what does the Titanic have to do with my foray into the Android world of the HTC One? Well for one thing, much like the Titanic, the HTC One is an incredible physical feat of beauty– all Apple copied but even more curvy and sexy in all the right ways. But when you get into the software guts of the device (and I assume most other Android phones) there is a lot left to be desired, and a bit of overconfidence is not a good thing. Android is a solid device for those who were born into it, but so far it is NOT an operating system for truly premium devices. Call iOS too simple or too limited or too anything else you want, but the fact is ‘it just works’ within the ecosystem it’s supposed to, and does so in such a way you can really say it’s a premium offering.
I looked over to my Nexus 7 and tried to figure out why I loved that but didn’t dig my even more gorgeous HTC One smartphone. After a while I think I figured it out; Android is a bit more of a challenge to get accustomed to, especially on smaller screens with more on-the-go communications needs. True, it syncs up to Google services like email and calendar well enough, but the lack of pleasing visual interfaces (compared to many apps in Apple’s store) makes using them on Android phones more of a hassle. On a tablet, though, you can sacrifice some of that for more simple uses; reading eBooks, looking at news, watching a YouTube video. But your smartphone is your digital world Swiss army knife, and you want it to be sleek AND a joy to use.
HTC made some awesome industrial hardware with the One, but they put the wrong operating system on it. The recently released HTC First fell flat because the ultra lame Facebook Home skin was released to everyone at the same time and killed it’s ‘uniqueness’, plus no one wanted all Facebook all the time. The One is a beauty to use, but if the company really wants to kick ass (and hell, just survive) maybe they should reposition themselves as device manufacturers for Apple. The ongoing Foxconn dramas are making Apple look elsewhere, and an HTC One-like iPhone 6 would be a world class smartphone damn near everyone would love. If not, HTC will continue to act like they’re the Titantic; better than they are and running full steam into an iceberg called Samsung. Oh yeah, did you hear in the past week a large handful of top HTC brass have jumped ship? They can probably see the iceberg Peter Chou can’t. Ouch.
Consumers and content creaters/owners have long been at odds over the rules of distributing content. Not to say that content creators have been in the wrong, per se, just simply they’ve very carefully crafted systems of “windowing” that were designed to maximize revenues from consumers by creating the critical foundation of the Entertainment & Media industries– “artificial scarcity”. In short, if a limited amount of something is available in a limited means of access then its value is logically higher than if it were available in unlimited amounts and/or near limitless means of access. That’s why Movies and TV show episodes have been so rigidly controlled in their release to consumers.
The thought most prevalent amongst content owners has been that if a Movie were to be made available in shorter timetables from the theater to On-Demand to DVD to Digital Streaming rights then its value would drop ten-fold or more because people would think “Screw that, I’m not paying $40 to see it in theaters or $20 on DVD. I’ll just wait until it shows up in my Netflix or Hulu accounts!” TV shows follow a similar trail of fear with their limited (if any) episodes viewable via digital options like iTunes, Hulu, or Netflix because there is still the notion that designated TV time slots and physical DVD season sets will draw more revenue from viewership in the long-run.
Well, two things have spent the last decade turning all this logic on its head; Digital Piracy and Consumer-Controlled Technology. The power has shifted greatly since the late 1990s when content owners truly controlled when and how consumers would get to watch Movies and TV shows. Piracy was thought of as a minor annoyance, but over the last 10-12 years its become a major epidemic–partially from some users eagerly wanting to pirate anything and everything in sight, but mostly from a large contingency of users upset by the time delays and cost factors involved.
The DVD was heralded as a savior technology as VHS began to enter old age. The idea of collecting these neat little discs, getting to enjoy “digital” content was just too cool to not jump onto starting in 1997. And everyone was happy for some time. But then, Movie collections became too large, TV show seasons went unwatched, and consumers started wondering about just how much they were really spending for the unknown quality of their favorite content. The physical video rental store died as people eagerly bought DVDs in chaos, but then people realized just how much they missed it when wanted to check out a recent release but not wanting to pay full price. In short, most Movies and TV shows that come out just aren’t that good and people don’t want to fully commit to something they’re uncertain about.
Netflix saw this coming and really hit it spot on with their Watch Instantly option. Although content owners were reluctant to embrace digital distribution because the margins weren’t as good as DVDs, it was a nice area to look at. Well, over the last 7 years Netflix has been exploding in its user base, primarily led by Watch Instantly sign-ups, and DVDs have plateaued before starting to decline harshly. Hulu was another solution brought to the table, but if you don’t feed the animal it won’t grow to be strong. In other words, there is a serious lack of Movie content there and limited TV shows available (except now it’s a bit better with Hulu Plus having more episodes, but still there are TV commercials that irritate paying consumers).
In all their wisdom Steve Jobs and Apple saw a similar piracy/technology problem with Music several years ahead of Movies/TV’s issues. When piracy started eating into CD sales (and not to mention people just wanted to jump over to MP3s anyway) Apple created iTunes to collect it all in a simple, easy to use program. Then they created the iPod, essentially creating the only MP3 player anyone would use, and had the heft to convince the Music industry to jump about the digital train– whether they wanted to or not. $0.99 per song sounded outrageous, but it worked, and with your primary cash cow (CDs) dying it was time to invest in something new or go the way of the dodo.
Movies and TV shows are increasingly faced with the same dilemma, and no one is quite sure of what to do next. This hesitancy– someone else make the first move– is a sure way to destroy your chances of a truly successful future. There is no chance that Movies and TV shows will just go away, after all people always want to be entertained. But an unwillingness or fear of embracing change will antagonize consumers into finding better ways of enjoying the content that’s intended for them.
Take the example of recent start-up Zediva. The company’s business model is a type of Streaming-over-the-Internet DVD rental store. Registered users pay $2 to rent a DVD (legally purchased by Zediva), which is then put in a dedicated DVD player in Zediva’s warehouse, and has its audio/video piped through the Internet to the user’s home. It’s like renting a DVD from a store, hitting play in a single DVD player/TV at the store, then watching it through a SUPER-LONG telescope from home. Zediva’s CEO said that he created the company because he was unhappy with the excessive release delays he faced when trying to enjoying content, especially given the cost of earlier windows. In other words, he didn’t want to pay $10-20 to watch a certain movie in theaters, buy it on DVD for $20 to just watch once, or wait weeks or months more to watch it as a digital streaming option on Netflix or from iTunes (albeit at a higher premium). He just wanted to watch it as soon, and as legal, as possible. But the film studios that realized this loophole are having none of it, and are eager to see Zediva get shutdown so as to preserve their business model.
A similar fear existed in the mid-1980s when Sony released its Betamax player (the precursor to VHS) and spooked content owners with the thought of consumers being able to record and copy Movies and TV shows at their own leisure. Cooler heads prevailed once the ensuing lawsuit reached all the way up to the Supreme Court and the judges ruled in Sony’s favor, citing that private use of the technology was fair game. Funny enough, the “defeat” led to a massive victory for the film studios as the Home Entertainment industry was born out of the decision–spawning billions of dollars in sales of VHS, DVD, and Blu-Ray content (and to a much lesser extent the forgotten Betamax, Laserdisc, and HD-DVD).
Just to clarify, I’m not a proponent of completely free content distribution. I don’t believe that the hard work, investments, and efforts of millions of individuals should go unrewarded. The protection of intellectual property is a valued mission, and one that really does apply to everyone in the world. However, the means by which we value such content and its distribution methods are what I strongly propose be reimagined. In short, most Movies and TV shows aren’t very good and to ask they be valued the same as a good or great piece of work is unrealistic, uneconomical, and just plain crazy. When you go to a restaurant the more popular dishes generally cost more than the average ones because they’ve been rewarded by their popularity amongst consumers.
The same can be said of the timing and means of getting content to users. The big film studios made a positive step towards more seamless content distribution by recent proposing the notion of Premium On-Demand at home for many future theatrical releases. Although antagonizing the National Association of Theater Owners (the other NATO), who haven’t done anything to increase the appeal of the movie-going experience with any new offerings in the last 50+ years, the new proposal intends to make a handful of films available for a $30 rental fee at home just 60-days after theatrical release. The logic is quite sound, in that a generally movie makes over 90% of its total revenues within the first 60 days of its release (exceptions like Titanic or Avatar are quite rare) so having a rent-at-home option priced higher would make it a consumer decision to split the home rental with a few friends (for economic reasons) if they’re willing to wait. Warner Bros.’ beginning to rent out movies via Facebook (starting with The Dark Knight and several Harry Potter films, high valued content to be sure although older titles by now) is another step in terms of progress. With over 600 million users (and counting) on Facebook by drawing even 1% of those users for a $4 movie rental that’s potentially $24 million additional dollars for a title that would otherwise be towards the end of its value earning cycle. More and more people are re-evaluating a trip to the movie theater or the commitment to watching TV shows at set times or higher-paid premiums. That’s not to say there isn’t a future there, there is. It just needs to be carefully crafted to account for the future of digital distribution.
One practice that Apple has routinely done with their technology (crucified for in the short term, praised for in long term) has been to create the future, not adjust to it. Meaning, when a certain technology has just crested in its lifetime usefulness Apple then kills its integration, stating that its lack of usefulness in the near future necessitates its demise in the present. Apple was the first company to excise the floppy disk drive with its new iMacs in the late 1990s when the floppy disk drive was still more widely used than CDs. People cried out but Apple held firm, and shortly people adjusted to CDs as the new data medium. Apple did it again with DVD drives and had the same results. And again with losing the CD/DVD drive with the Macbook Air. And now getting there with USB drives, pushing WiFi network transfers via their AirPlay technology. When there was no good MP3 player device for all the ripped Music files they created it. When Sci-Fi movies reflected a future with touchscreen communicators and flat panel computer devices Apple said “screw it” and made the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad themselves. They didn’t wait for the future, they invented it.
This opportunity is in front of Movie and TV shows’ content owners, if they choose to jump in with both feet instead of carefully wading in as they’ve been doing for the last decade. Consumers, frustrated with the speed and lower costs with which they can enjoy content have taken to piracy through peer-to-peer (P2P) networks like BitTorrent and eDonkey, searching for files uploaded to file hosting sites like RapidShare and FileServe (and being PAID for downloads of their uploaded files, to entice even MORE illegal distribution), and only occasionally said “naw, I’ll just wait until it’s Streamable in my Netflix Watch Instantly TWO YEARS FROM NOW.”
Instead of fighting the future its time to embrace it wholeheartedly. Kill the DVD instead of prolonging its life support. Pledge your allegiance to your consumers and their wants (digital distribution), even if you think you know better than them because you probably don’t. Shorten windows of select titles to encourage greater paid consumption of big releases on later channels and small releases on earlier channels (I’ll explain in a moment). Since the inception of the film industry the business of Movies has been a massive gamble; invest in a few hundred movies a year, accept 70% as failures, hope for 20% to do okay, and pray for 10% to be successful. It’s a business model that’s rooted in deep lunacy and one that few other industries bank on to do well. Here’s a relative film release model that may start crafting the future in a more favorable light to consumers, lessen piracy from convertable users (there will always be some percentage of users than will never give up pirating), and demonstrate a more forward thinking business instead of one catering heavily to the old guard:
- Theatrical Release:
30 days for Indie releases, 45 days for General releases, 60 days for Blockbusters
- On-Demand Rentals/Digital Purchase (DirectTV, iTunes, Netflix Premium, Hulu Plus, Facebook):
60 days for Indie releases, 90 days for General releases, 120 days for Blockbusters
- On-Demand A La Carte Library Streaming (Netflix Watch Instantly, Hulu General):
91st day onward for Indie releases, 136th day onward for General releases, 181st day onward for Blockbusters
Does the concept of having a Blockbuster film release like Captain America: The First Avenger or X-Men: First Class going from theatrical release to being in an “access anytime at a monthly rate” library sound scary? Sure it does. But it also makes the most sense in prolonging the ongoing value of a property during a stable lifetime instead of rebuilding hype and steam with each new release cycle wave. People get tired of having to remember when a film is coming to DVD, or being surprised that “oh wow, that movie is FINALLY available in my Netflix Watch Instantly queue?” Seldom few properties like Star Wars or The Lord of the Rings movies can generate much excitement with several releases, but in the long term user exhaustion sets in and breeds malcontent.
The same can be said of TV shows, which are different in that they produce new episodes regularly, put them online in limited quantities and then delete their older offerings as they start to lose value to consumers and the content owners. TV has done much more to embrace digital viewing pattens and in return has gained more notable consumer approval. Although the delays in which past seasons are made available are bothersome, most consumers are willing to accept them so long as they become available for rental or in a la carte streaming libraries within a season back of shows’ newer seasons (such as with Mad Men having seasons 1-4 available on Netflix Watch Instantly come Summer 2011 to help ramp up excitement for Season 5 by early 2012).
Movies still have a ways to go to really kill and present and save the future. Instead of rewarding consumers with new and exciting properties made available at reasonable intervals so as to draw from their perceived interest in a title (willing to pay more and sooner for a more desirable title, and vice versa with a less desirable title), the frequent re-issuing of past movie properties and long-drawn out nature of the current business model sends the message that content owners don’t respect consumers by catering to their wants and desires. Consumers are the greatest resource of information as indicated by their behavior, excitement, frustration, willingness to pay, or willingness to withhold. Apple taught the Music industry a lesson by creating an ecosystem (iTunes & the iPod) which users flocked to when the industry refused to move in that direction.
While film and TV content owners have done much to avoid being held hostage by Apple or Netflix’s “dragging into the future” methods, creating and/or supporting more digital distribution channels than their music industry counterparts, there is still much to be done to ensure a bright and successful future. Theater owners will riot and in all honestly, content owners should let them. The theaters have done nothing to earn their voice at the table in the past half century but offer overpriced popcorn and terrible snack selections. When they create or partner with Groupon-like filmgoing incentive programs to lure more consumer then reconsider giving them longer windows. This is a “what have you done for me lately” business world and they are not measuring up with middling 3D or IMAX ticket sales.
In the meanwhile, kill the DVD, embrace digital, and restructure windows to enhance the value of digital content offerings. Don’t kick the blossoming golden goose to the curb like a stray dog. Piracy and technocentrists may be calling for content owners’ heads, but by heeding their calls and taking the initiative– being the true market leaders like content owners should rightfully be– will the film and TV industries truly lay the groundwork for a more financially and commercially-successful future.
It’s pretty tough to really put my thoughts about the iPad 2 to page without getting a whole lot of hell from my friends who call me an Apple Fanboy, but here goes anyway.
I was a late adopter to the iPad game by getting the iPad 1 right around Christmas. Even though I knew the iPad 2 was coming out in a few months, I figured “meh, it’ll be the same but just a bit different.” Seeing how I’ve gone through each iPhone and had an aluminum Macbook since burning my HP laptop after grad school was over you’d think I’d learn something– but no. As the days inched closer to the iPad 2’s release I totally cracked, sold my iPad 1 on eBay, and stayed up to pre-order the new model like all the other lemmings.
And how happy has it made me! Sure, it’s just marginally lighter than the iPad 1, but its faster processor and higher graphics capabilities really shine across the board. It’s cameras are just o.k., but you wouldn’t get this thing just to film a movie. The FaceTime which I’ve enjoyed so much on my iPhone 4 really translates well here. There are the occasional freezes and glitches, but most of the time it works pretty well. Overall, it’s not so much about it being a “revolutionary” device as much as it is a “supplementary” one. I loved the first iPad because it was sleek, fast, easy to use, has tons of apps for everything, and really can replace your laptop on trips or just sitting back and consuming content.
The iPad 2 takes all the iPad 1 does and just improves upon it. Apple knows what they’re doing in getting people to jump on board the Apple train enough through 1 or 2 releases before really cranking it up down the line. I know I could’ve waiting for the iPad 3 and all its crazy upgrades, but something about playing with the current model made me just not want to wait. Now if you already have an iPad 1 and you’re pretty torn about upgrading, the only question is are you willing to pay to get the same thing but lighter, faster, and with a camera built in. If you’re answer is yes, like me, then just go for it and tell your critics to go to hell 🙂 Otherwise, life won’t drastically change if you stay with your iPad 1.
However, besides the iPad there really isn’t much in terms of competition out on the market right now. 2010 all belonged to Apple, but 2011 has some up and coming entries with the Xoom and (maybe) the Playbook. For all my money I’d still bet on Apple this year, as their just know how to make things fun, pretty, and accessible by everyone. My basic test is simple; when I get something can I show it (NOT explain it) to my Mom and my Dad and have them just “get it” in less than 10 minutes? If the answer is yes then you’ve got a mass market winner on your hands. My parents have been confounded with damn near any tech thing or gadget I’ve ever had with the exception of my iPhone and my iPad. They just “get it” after a few mins, and seeing their smiling faces really does make for another reason to get an iPad; the ability to share it with others who aren’t as tech-savvy as you might be.