It’s 2011. In my opinion, disc based media should have died out years ago. It’s an unfortunate truth that one company cannot kill physical media alone. A few companies have made strides in the past few years to eliminate our dependence on disc based media; some focusing on streaming content while others focus on digital downloads. Both show promise, but both are crippled by regulations set by the entertainment industry.
In May 2011, Wired reported “Netflix accounts for 22.2 percent of all U.S. broadband traffic compared to BitTorrent’s 21.6 percent share. And at peak times, Netflix hits 30 percent of all traffic…” It's not surprising to see that when a company offers content that is commercial free and fairly priced that people are willing to pay for it rather then resorting to pirating their material. Currently, Netflix has the best streaming service available; offering thousands of TV Series and Movies for as low as $8 dollars a month. While Netflix may offer an excellent selection of Movies and TV Series, it's still not a complete solution for ditching physical media. The majority of content available on Netflix is still marked as “Disc Only” which forces the consumer to deal with old-fashioned discs. I feel that this limitation is a combination of entertainment industry limitations and Netflix lack of motivation to improve on such a great service.
Hulu offers a similar service to Netflix. Hulu is an online streaming service that has both free and premium packages. As expected; the free service gives access to a subset of Hulu’s total content, which is also ad supported. Hulu offers a premium membership that allows access to current season episodes (which Netflix does not offer). In theory, this service should compliment Netflix well. I have trouble saying anything positive about Hulu due to the fact that their “Premium” membership still includes commercials in their streaming content. Paying a premium for access to content should not also include commercials. For this reason alone, I can't justify supporting Hulu with a premium membership. I don't believe Hulu will ever become a true competitor to Netflix until the ads are removed from premium content.
Amazon VOD offers their Prime Members unlimited free streaming of select titles. Prime costs around $80 dollars yearly. In my opinion, their collection of prime titles falls short of being worth the yearly premium. Amazon advertises “Unlimited instant streaming of 6,000 movies and TV shows with Amazon Prime” which is inaccurate. Sorting by Prime eligible content yields only 2,549 results. It appears that Amazon VOD is considering each individual TV episode as part of their 6000 total. I find this to be a terrible business practice by Amazon. They are overselling a service that just isn’t that great. In theory, if Amazon were to release their entire VOD collection to Prime members (free streaming) – then it would turn into a Netflix competitor overnight.
As it stands right now, Netflix is miles ahead of any other streaming competition and each day continues to move ahead further. While this is great for Netflix, I feel that other companies are hesitant to make major leaps forward because they (most likely) still fall behind Netflix in terms of service and content.
Services such as Amazon and iTunes both offer unique features that could potentially compete with Netflix. Unlike Netflix, Amazon VOD has an option to download a DRM digital copy of the media to a computer or portable device. In theory, this service could be a real competitor to Netflix because offers a solution to view material offline or on the go that Netflix currently does not offer. Unfortunately, both Amazon and iTunes fail when it comes to pricing. Individual episodes of TV Series can be purchased for (on average) $1.99 (SD), or $2.99 (HD) from Amazon or iTunes. Amazon offers season passes, which can be purchased for a discount. Unfortunately, both are grossly overpriced.
Lets take a look at an example by comparing Fringe Season 1 in High Definition to Amazon VOD, iTunes, or Physical Media (Blu Ray). Fringe Season 1 can be purchased digitally from iTunes for ~$60. If episodes are purchased individually from Amazon, episodes will total $60 as well. Amazon also offers a bulk pricing option for $35.On the other hand, Fringe Season 1 can be purchased on a physical Blu Ray disc for $20. The physical media also contains extensive special feature material that is otherwise unavailable on digital downloads. Why would anyone want to pay an additional $15 (or $40 from iTunes) for something that contains fewer features then the physical media? If Netflix can manage to offer thousands of Movies and TV Series for pennies a day, anyone reasonably sized company should also be able to offer digital downloads for less then the cost of its associated physical media. I would be happy to pay a reasonable price for physical download capabilities. Ditch the DRM and charge a flat rate of $10 dollars per season for any TV Series and I would be a lifetime customer.
It shocks me that anyone is willing to purchase digital media for such an inflated price. It seems that consumers automatically believe that digital downloads would be cheaper without comparing prices elsewhere. I would love to support other services such as Amazon VOD and iTunes; unfortunately, due to the inflated pricing I still find myself purchasing physical media more then digital media.
It's important to note that services such as iTunes and Amazon VOD can not completely be blamed for the over inflation of content. The entertainment industry is taking advantage of their customers. I fear that until consumers realize how badly they are being scammed this terrible trend of overpriced digital media will never end. Competition between streaming services and digital download services needs to gain momentum. Competition between content providers will force the entertainment industry to lower prices for their content.