“At E3, Microsoft and Netflix, the world’s largest online movie rental service, today unveiled an exclusive partnership to offer the ability to instantly stream movies and TV episodes from Netflix to your television via Xbox 360®.”
Netflix recently introduced its Watch Instantly program that allows subscribers to view selected (that is, the titles already converted) titles instantly on their PC. A plan costing as little as $8.99/month allows unlimited viewing during that month.
Well here is the trump card Microsoft was holding as it took egg in the face over the loss of the HD-DVD/Blu-Ray war. This is not another Xbox vs. Playstation post nor is it an HD-DVD vs. Blue-Ray treatise – it is a celebration of the fact that at long last a massive high-definition video-on-demand solution exists backed by two of the respectively largest players in the world.
Yeah it’s too bad it’s an exclusive grab for Microsoft because it means not everyone will be happy; investors in Playstation will punch all sorts of holes in it, and lots of finger pointing will happen. But every time I go to NAB show and see the big TV players scrambling for what is going to happen next and we all wonder when Broadband random-access, full resolution, full-length programming video will be available (yes Vimeo.com is cool and looks nice but really, do you want to watch 3 minute programs for the rest of your life?) well its now. Actually, it is technically this holiday season (2008).
I was already radically changing my movie-viewing habits by staying home to purchase whatever might already be up on the respectively meager offerings from XBOX LIVE Marketplace – it was worth it for instant on-demand on my 46″ HDTV. But with the introduction of Netflix and an $8.99 a month subscription to Netflix (with a $7.99 monthly Xbox Live Gold membership) – thus a total of under US$20 – I have access to tens of thousands of titles for unlimited use directly through my Xbox 360 with HDMI out to my HDTV.
But hundreds of questions arise as we contemplate the implications of this announcement. With Sony launching its video-on-demand (VOD) service on the Playstation 3, with portability to the PSP, are we caught once again in a format war – this time between Sony Playstation 3 and Microsoft’s XBox 360?
What will the new console-based VOD universe mean for distributors?
How will actors, producers, film composers/musicians and the rest collect royalties?
What will differentiate legitimate films from indie YouTUbe fare? Surely studio releases will qualify as “legitimate” films and television, but what differentiates them? As a film studio, Sony and all of its subsidiaries has a direct interest in the films in makes available, whereas Microsoft simply wants to push as much traffic through so that it can participate in the home entertainment lexicon.
One may argue that the audience that doesn;t yet own an Xbox, may not be so excited about having to commit to the platform just to take advantage of the exclusive Netflix opportunity. But look at the inverse – with the Xboxers super happy with this seemingly limitless and convenient option, the advertisers and studios should be asking – how will they get the Xbox/Netflix viewers if they aren’t in that catalog?
Here at the Culturepin I provide a form of virtual safari through the bleeding edge landscape of the world and contemporary society. Suffice to say it is a treacherous terrain filled with uncertainty and conflict that requires a certain mad bravery to traverse. Even more treacherous is attempting to predict what will unfold around the next bend or come to pass just over the horizon.
So I avoid being a soothsayer, but rather, an echo of what is going down on the frontier. Which brings me to today’s subject – the latest format war in the VHS vs. Beta legacy, namely: Blu-Ray vs. HD-DVD.
Here’s a very condensed version of what is one of the dirtiest and most agitated format wars in history:
Blu-Ray, a format developed by leading company NP Infotech and co-developed by Matsushita, Pioneer, Philips, Thomson, LG Electronics, Hitachi, Sharp, Samsung, and Sony (a collective that named itself the Blu-ray Disc Association as recently as 2004 – all this to say Blu-Ray does NOT=Sony per se), aspired to be the new high-definition playback and storage format for laser-based media.
On the other side of the proverbial laser-based media universe, was Toshiba with HD-DVD.
The shakedown was that Microsoft released an HD-DVD player for the Xbox360 and Sony went with Blu-Ray for its PS3 gaming platform.
Millions of emotionally charged discussion board posts later, Wal-Mart, that proverbial lynch pin of all things mass-marketable, announced it was phasing out HD-DVD and going exclusively with Blu-Ray. Just two nights ago – Valentine’s Day, 2008 I said that if Wal-Mart goes with Blu-Ray it’s all over.
February 15th, 2008, Engadget, a popular technology blog, thrust itself onto the global stage by boldly announcing the end of HD-DVD based on Wal-Mart’s announcement that it was going with Blu-Ray and citing reports from Reuters that Toshiba planned to stop production at its HD-DVD factories and thus the meme percolated throughout the format battleground.
None of this is absolute – however, for those who have been watching from the sidelines, wondering when they can start ordering their high-definition entertainment content from Amazon – you now know which way to hedge your bets.
Two things to ponder:
1) When a format wins, it is not necessarily because it is the superior format
2) When VHS killed Beta, there was no internet community
In the meantime, I am going to enjoy the copious bonus features on my Children of Men HD-DVD from my Xbox360 and wait for the prices of the remaining HD-DVD catalog to plummet so I can get another 350 or so titles that were released in the US for pocket change.
Disclaimer: I am not an advocate of either company or format – I have a Sony Bravia screen and I use Sony Vegas software, while I am inputting this entry on my Toshiba m300 Satellite laptop.