I made no resolutions for the New Year. The habit of making plans, of criticizing, sanctioning, and molding my life, is too much of a daily event for me.
End-of-year lists, top ten films and new resolutions have now come and gone. But what about all the messy things we haven’t resolved? Certain questions in 2008 endlessly plagued us, leading to outlandish predictions, flame-war mayhem and an outbreak of opinionated public speaking. In case you missed it, a few were: "Is the ‘profitable indie film’ dead?" and "Will the last film critic please turn out the lights?" (I’m referring to Mark Gill’s June speech at the Los Angeles Film Festival entitled Yes, the Sky is Falling. and a critic-crisis neatly summarized here, as well as the ques-tion of optimism concerning new-tech distribution strategies from Peter Broder-ick and Scott Kirsner). For more on those lingering issues, I leave you to Google. In the meantime, The Sixth Screen issues opinions on a few remaining unresolved technology issues below.
Blu-ray? Yes? No?
This year’s Consumer Electronics Show has brought the fortunes of Blu-ray back onto the New York Times’ ‘most emailed’ list. Blu-ray killed HD-DVD, but will HD downloads kill Blu-ray? Anyone who has watched both an iTunes HD download, and a Blu-ray DVD, knows that the online competition is still far behind (anyone that gets their online HD content from other less legitimate sources, knows enough to bypass three quarters of this list). And then who knows whether ISPs will win their war to throttle large file transfer speeds. As more people upgrade their TVs, will ease of access to HD content trump quality and physical ownership? Personally, my Blu-ray player is still in its box (there’s only so much room in my "entertainment cabinet" —does it replace the all-region DVD player, or the DVD recorder? Or…my husband’s Laserdisc player? Wha..ha..ha!). As long as Sony continues to support the format through the popular gaming platform Playstation, and Netflix offers discs through the mail, there’s still a lot going for the format.
Are the subscription and pay-per-view models dead?
It’s very tempting to say yes, except for those little, forgettable companies called Netflix and Apple. These two giants used the side door to get high adoption rates for their Video on Demand products, and cable providers like Comcast used the same strategy. People are comfortable thinking of Netflix as a subscription service; iTunes is the tool you’re generally using anyway if you have an iPod or iPhone; you’re already navigating around your Comcast menu system. If you have the account, are a regular visitor and are comfortable with the process, 90 percent of the work is already done. So it’s not the models themselves, but ease and familiarity that win out. Thanks to the cable providers, VOD numbers are surprisingly high for well-marketed films. But other online pay-per-view models persist too. After initially considering an advertising based system, The Auteurs now offers their streaming films through pay-per-view and Amazon also still uses it for rental and purchase. Ad revenues do not yet add up, so the field is still open. Remember, a year ago everyone thought preroll ads were dead because YouTube was promoting overlays—but that certainly hasn’t slowed Hulu down. At least not yet.
Will people only ever watch short and/or funny content online?
A better question might be….
Will the Internet finally come to your television?
Once this happens, online content won’t be limited to short and/or funny, because people will presumably watch whatever they want to through online delivery, just like they currently do with DVDs. I personally may weep-into-my-scotch at a Hulu-streamed 44 minute episode of House in "high resolution" on my laptop, but people tell me I may be in the minority. Again, CES has been in the forefront of the news this week, with LG’s announcement of a new line of broad-band enabled HDTVs. In the fine print though is the fact that these TVs will only access specific content sites, like, ah, Netflix. This is not the vision we’re after, especially when tuner enabled PCs can do the cable and internet work instead. But it’s what sites like The Auteurs are banking on because people will remain hesitant to watch Tarkovsky on their computer. Honestly, I’ve never fully understood this issue, because it’s so easy to plug my laptop into my HD projector, or into my media tuner for the TV. Or to get that one cable for my iPhone….
Will we ever get rid of DRM?
Open the champagne, iTunes music is going DRM-free! The Digital Rights Management question has been a permanent thorn in the side of Link TV’s, where I work, because the only free software solution to control copy protection is works for Windows Media only. DRM is the system of keys and licenses that keeps you from copying downloaded digital files from one computer to another. Serious online content players can afford to develop their own proprietary DRM, which is massively complex and constantly at battle with hackers. Downloads allow for better quality video than the more easily protected streaming, and can be moved across devices, and also allow for time displacement—you can watch them whenever you like. More and more services are popping up that offer DRM-free downloads, but distributors and filmmakers remain reluctant to make copies of their work available that can be easily shared with a mas-sive audience for free. Who can blame them?
Will the set top box survive?
Devices like game boxes, TVs and Blu-ray players are becoming Swiss army knives, and DRM is hopefully on the way out, so what do we need additional set top boxes for again? Their advantage has always been that hardware decoding of video formats and DRM allow for higher quality, copy protected delivery. But other developments in the field could easily make these boxes obsolete.
Will 3D movies save cinema?
Again? Really? What, is this 1952? Where’s William Castle?
Manohla Dargis, New York Times, "The Revolution Is Dead, Long Live the Revolution":
Mark Gill, "Yes, the Sky is Falling":
Ted Hope, "How The New Truly Free Filmmaking Community Will Rise From Indie’s Ashes":
Filmmaker mag round table:
Anthony Kaufman on Zeitgeist:
Jonathan Marlow, "They Didn’t Build Their Sales Model for You," Greencine:
NY Times Blu-ray
Scott Kirsner, Case studies for ITVS:
NY Times, HDTVs:
NY Times, iTunes:
Aaron Hillis Spouting off on Distribution
Harry Tuttle, 2008 Crisis in Links
Jason Boog, Salon.com, "Read it and Weep":
ProVideo Coalition, Mike Curtis, "Rant on The Death of Indie Film as a Business Model":
Photo, above, licensed via Creative Commons: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/deed.en.
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