As you may have heard, Netflix cut a deal with Warner Brothers -- they'll delay rental release of WB DVD's for 28 days in exchange for a deeper, wider reach into the WB library for their Watch Instantly feature. Other writers have beaten me to the punch with analysis -- Bill sent over this excellent article:
Netflix's focus on the long term is smart strategy, and complements well the company's near-term emphasis on riding the convergence wave by embedding its Watch Instantly software in every conceivable living room device (e.g. PS3, Xbox, Roku, Bravia, Blu-ray players, etc.). It's also a strategy that benefits Hollywood. By creating a situation where studios preserve as much of their DVD sales as possible (allegedly 75% of a film's total DVD sales occur in the first 4 weeks following release), Netflix is helping Hollywood gracefully wind down and milk the DVD business.John August points out a lovely side-benefit -- writers get better residuals off streaming than off DVD rentals. (I'm a little fuzzy on the math, but at first glance he seems right).
I have said "Netflix Will Win" so many times now that I should have a t-shirt made. Or at least be getting some bling from them. But I think it's worth looking at this successful model from a print perspective as the tablets now battle it out.
The e-readers are a dead end. I mean, read this description of the Plastic Logic QueProreader's virtues:
One surprise of the presser is the new truVue format for publications that Plastic Logic supports. The standard was developed in conjunction with Adobe, and it preserves some of the style and layout (though certainly not all) of a print publication, with publishers such as Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Huffington Post, Thompson Reuters and more on board.. To get documents onto the device you can print to a "QUE it" printer, as well as drag and drop documents to a "QUE it" droplet on the desktop for automagical document transfers. There's also a QUE application for the BlackBerry, which can bump any email or attachment from the BlackBerry to the QUE over Bluetooth. QUE has partnered with Good for "QUE Mail" and "QUE Calendar," with support for Exchange, Gmail, Windows Live and other email accounts. The device has Bluetooth, WiFi and 3G under the hood, with AT&T providing the wireless data.You mean I can take any data and easily turn it into a proprietary layout that can only be read on your device? Tell me it isn't so!! And it has some of the functions of a tablet computer, but not all? AMAZING! So instead of reading your newspaper/magazine on its website on my tablet computer, where I can also follow hyperlinks and watch embedded video, I can read the same information on a crippled black and white tablet but, thank God, formatted the way you prefer to present it -- in a shuffling, zombie illusion of print?!!
All this wankerriffic bit of tech does is allow newspapers a last sop to their ego, that they control the information space. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a "kill the newspapers" guy. They still produce and present information, but the idea that deprived of their column layout I'll be set adrift, well, that's just sad.
To a great degree, this is why I defended the Kindle, despite Amazon's rapacious grift (%70/30, favoring Amazon). The column I promised but never had time to do last year was about how Amazon was basically going through the "we now fuck you because we can" phase all new technologies enjoy. They got there first, they had the market share, and so things rolled out in a rather unsurprising way. They will abuse their monopoly as deeply as possible for as long as possible. I was just too jaded to pretend to be offended. Remember when iTunes was all about the DRM? And now, not so much.
This is attributing a very deep game to Jeff Bezos, but there's a nonzero chance that the Kindle was always intended to be a transitory device with a single purpose -- habituate people into buying digital books the way they buy digital music. Skim as much as you can as long as you can off the "early adopters" (alt. definition see: "suckers" "John Rogers") and make downloading books a plausible premise.
The Kindle Reader on the iPhone is a very pleasant, efficient interface. This Christmas, Amazon sold more Kindle files than physical books for the first time. Unless I'm smarter than Jeff Bezos (the correct answer, btw, is a hearty laugh), then you'll see Kindle(tm) quickly fall in behind the Netflix(tm) strategy, rushing to become as ubiquitous on as many platforms as possible while Bezos personally dynamites whatever 19th century manufacturing base is churning out the Kindle chassis.
Back in the video world, you can see Apple trying to play catch up to with its offer of a streaming deal with CBS and Disney. CBS, as we've noted before, has a counterintuitively brilliant policy toward online broadcast, and I'll doubt they bite. But this, combined with the conceptual muddle created by the Comcast/Universal deal, all points to a transformative streaming distribution solution occurring years faster than anticipated. The current definition of "Network" is going to die very soon -- why the hell should Disney sequester streaming ABC shows away on an ABC website when it's more likely to be watched on a content aggregator like Hulu or an Apple streaming center, or Netflix? You know who cares about keeping Lost associated with ABC? People who work at ABC. You know who doesn't give a shit about ABC in the new streaming model? The people who own ABC. That does not bode well for the suited humans wandering those halls.
The question is whether services such as Apple and Netflix will help the corporations rebuild something of the monopsony they had over the airwaves, or if the wealth they've built by treating everyone the same (shittily, but the same) will tilt them towards encouraging an open distribution system.
(And once there's a unified distribution system for movies, television, music and books on our computers, are we really supposed to believe that journalism will stay isolated on black and white e-readers? Adorable.)
The big question, I suppose, is when this online distribution plateau occurs, with a.) Netflix owning the brainspace for movies and a heckuva lot of television, b.) Amazon owning the books brainspace, with SOME music and video, but also being a, for lack of a better term, first-instinct purchase point for most online Americans c.) Apple owning the music brainspace, and maybe poaching some television, d.) Comcast owning a whackload of television, not to mention controlling the actual pipe coming into your home ... whether they settle out into a rough, slowly evolving equilibrium, or if any of them go for the kill-strike.
(EDIT: My, it's getting feisty in here already. Good. Definitely want to see your Comments on this one, as I'm trying to hash things out for a longer article. Tell me I'm an idiot, but be specific!)