Bradley Chambers wrote a pretty nice little thingy on his bloggy-mah-jig entitled Content As A Service [sic]. He rationalizes the transition we’re making as a culture away from ownership of physical media to service payments for access to content libraries. The comparison is drawn with renting physical media from places like Blockbuster, and our cyclical purchasing of the same media when new, improved media formats would become availble (VHS → DVD).
His comparisons are sound, except they are not completely analogous to what we have in our current digital, streaming system. Imagine Amazon Prime Video, the iTunes Store, Netflix, Hulu Plus, Crackle (LOL! Crackle!), Flixster, etc. each as physical stores. Now imagine selecting which stores you paid for access to their media libraries monthly. Now imagine while physical stores carried the movies, and TV shows, you wanted to watch. You know you can’t get by on Netflix alone, so you’ll pay another. You’ll have some content that is identical between the two, but other content that is different. You’ll have content that rotates its availability in this physical store. There’s no concern about something being checked out, there are infinite copies when something is available. Now just pay forever and hope that you have enough content that doesn’t overlap to justify each service payment. The stores each have a vested interest in having content that is exclusive to their platform to make sure you pay.
Steaming services are definitely not a commodity, they are not full-access retailers. It can feel like they have relatively the same expense for you right now, but they have artificial limits between them that make them more like department stores that carry brands unique to them. Remember Montgomery Ward? Sears’ Kenmore line? Your local mattress store that sells just slightly different mattress models from the other local mattress store? Differentiating products is fun!
Content owners, the ones that license access to their content to the online servies, which in turn license access to you, are also mercurial. When a movie in a franchise is going to come out, associated content may be pulled off of some of the shelves and made available for purchase only, that’s not something that would happen with Blockbuster.
Now, let’s move on to another issue: there is no lending or resale. There are no bins of old movies at garage sales at a discount, there is no way to let your coworker watch Saving Silverman. You have to tell them to go look in their store themselves, and hope they subscribed to something which has the movie, or book, available.
This is also what’s killing new media at your public library. What will eventually strangle them. Physical media was easy for a public library to catalog and lend. There were rules that favored the public interests of making media available to the populace at large. The electronic systems for lending digital versions are not up to snuff. However, in a social, and cultural climate where even liberal-minded people have no interest in public libraries, it is of little concern. It’s relatively cheap, and easy, to get digital media, we tell ourselves. For now.
What Could Go Wrong With Monthly Payments?
Think about everything in your life that you pay for on a monthly basis. Your electrical bill, your cable bill, your internet access, your wireless bill, fees, taxes … Now think about how none of those rates climb at a rate you feel is unwarranted for the quality of service you receive.
Oh, you mean you do feel some of those climb at a rate you feel is unwarranted? But it’s so easy, you’re just subscribing, right?
What could go wrong with paying a small number of stores a monthly fee? It’ll be so small — at first.
Let’s look at cable. Cable pays for access to content, to provide you with channels. They do not do this a la carte, there are packages. Just like movie and television studios have overall distribution deals with Netflix, Amazon, etc. When the cable provider in your area has a disagreement with the content provider in your area, sometimes they loose channels for an indeterminate period of time. Also: The rate you are paying will increase, steadily over time even in the cases where they do work out agreements.
Most people pay a cable provider for internet access. Cable providers are already starting to squeeze digital content from the other end. Netflix very publicly raised its rates because of this. They’ve raise it before to try and pay for content. So it’s just going to keep increasing for access payments, and for content payments, and customers will pay an increasing subscription fee. Sure, you don’t have to worry about owning a copy of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? but is that copy going to be worth the cumulative monthly payments you will make over the course of your life?
I’m Not 💩-ing Over Everything
Streaming is still the direction we’re heading in as a society, and perhaps, some day, in some distant future, more rational legislation will allow for something will feel fair to all parties. Maybe it’ll just be robot death squads. That’d be cool too. Then I wouldn’t have to pay to stream Terminator 2.