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July 18th, 2011

unixronin: A somewhat Borg-ish high-tech avatar (Techno/geekdom)
Monday, July 18th, 2011 04:54 pm

This C|Net article asks whether Netflix is killing DVDs "like Apple killed floppies".  And paints it as a good thing.

Well, first of all, it wasn't Apple that killed floppies.  Floppies stayed around long after Apple stopped including floppy drives.  The pretensions of the Mac faithful notwithstanding, Apple is far too much a niche player — especially in business — to have the power to singlehandedly kill the floppy disk.  What killed the floppy was the rapidly increasing size of data such as digital camera images etc (and the increasing penetration of new forms of digital data, notably MP3 music), rapidly dropping prices on optical media, and increasingly universal availability of write/rewrite capable optical drives combined with improving software integration that made it possible for just anyone to use them.  Apple dropping the 3.5" floppy drive from the blueberry iMac was, in the larger scheme of things, a complete non-event.  When your mother could drop a blank disc in the DVD burner and drag a video of the grandkids onto it from her camcorder, and have it just work ... THAT'S when the floppy disc's days became numbered.

But let's talk about his premise that Netflix is killing the DVD, and that it's a good thing.

Well, sure.  If Netflix isd able to kill the DVD, it'll be a great thing ... for Netflix.  And for the studios; it'll get them closer to their dream of you having to pay for your entertainment every time you watch or listen to it.  But for anyone else?

Oh, no, it won't be good for the rest of us.  Now, we can have our physical media.  We can buy the disc once, and watch it whenever we want. Even when our ISP is having technical problems, or there's an outage somewhere and the 'net is crawling.  We can buy it, rip it, and put it on a portable device to watch it or listen to it when we're away from a network connection.

But in an all-streaming world?

Oh, yes, Hollywood and Netflix would love that.  They'd get to charge you for every time you watch the movie.  Every time you listen to the song.  What, you want to watch that movie at your vacation cabin up in the mountains, but you have no broadband up there?  Too bad.  Want to listen to music while you work, but you work in a steel-framed building that jams your 4G connectivity, and your employer doesn't allow music streaming using company resources?  Tough. Want movies in the back seat to keep the kids quiet on the seven-hour drive to Grandma's place out in the country?  Sucks to be you.  Want to watch some niche art film from France that's never sold enough copies to make it worth Netflix's trouble to add it to their catalog?  Serves you right for watching that artsy-fartsy foreign crap. Shut up and stream Transformers 7 in 5D.

Choice.  Now that's good.  A choice of media.  A choice of how you access what you want to be entertained by.  Use the one that works for you.  Stream the movie you figure you'll only bother to watch once.  Buy a physical copy of the one you rewatch about twice a year, or the one the kids watch about twice a month.

But if streaming is all there is?

Come on.  We're talking about Hollywood.  If streaming is the only way you can watch movies any more, how long do you really think it'll be before it costs as much to stream the movie once as it costs to buy the disc now?