SHIFT: Big media, adapt or die

Big media doesn’t want you to download their stuff. I should know, because for the past two months, I’ve abandoned DVD and Blu-ray discs, and tossed my cable box out the window. I was trying to see if big media had converged with new media. After winding my way through all the available choices, I’m here to tell you: This game is rigged, and not in your favor.

Hollywood movie studios and cable networks are impeding the future of entertainment. It’s because their business models don’t fit with the lubricated ease of downloading your movies, music and TV shows. Click on Continue and see how this tangled web of alliances and stubborn resistance of the new way of doing things is tantamount to the entertainment industry shooting itself in the foot.

Same Old, Same Old
Cable-TV purveyors have a business model that has similarities to that of the record companies, where they sell you a raft of goods you don’t really want so you can get one thing you do want. Think about buying a CD where all the songs are terrible except for one, or paying for 500 cable channels (with nothing on) when all you want is HBO.

Movie studios have similarities to the record companies, too. While the studios are obviously in the business of creating entertainment, if you think about it, they’re actually in the trucking business, just like the record companies. Their business model depends on moving truckloads of film reels, DVDs and now Blu-ray discs from point A to point B.

Choking Downloads
Enter downloading, the Internet and new technologies. Understandably, the movie studios want to control all of this, keeping piracy to a bare minimum and profits high. So what do they do? They hold HD releases of their back catalog to a trickle and at the same time try to prosecute anyone who tries to circumvent their stranglehold.

Meanwhile, the cable companies are clinging to their tired old business model of tiered services, making you buy layer upon layer of channels just to get to the good stuff you really want. They fight the a la carte idea every step of the way with lobbyists and tactics, continuing to subsidize unpopular channels by extracting fees from customers that nobody wants to pay.

Double Dipping
Cable purveyors such as Comcast and Time Warner are also selling video on demand (VOD), offering newer movies over cable systems. At the same time, they’re throttling their broadband customers who download too much data — usually video — over cable modems, thus strangling competitors such as Vudu and Apple who are trying to sell those same newer movies as downloads. It’s an unacceptable conflict of interest.

As I explored each service for my Video Rebel series, I could just smell the greedmeisters trying to hinder the proceedings, every step of the way. Yet a click away is every single Blu-ray release, available for download via the illegal shadows on BitTorrent.

There's Hope
Some content creators, like the broadcast networks, are getting with the program and offering full episodes of some shows for streaming or download (disclosure: DVICE is owned by NBC Universal). Others stubbornly cling to the old way of doing things, hoping that if they just steadfastly ignore the Internet, it might go away.

It’s not going away. The studios should offer for download all the movies and TV shows ever produced, at a reasonable price, in the highest practical definition, distributed by that protocol that gets faster as more people use it, BitTorrent. And the cable companies should be barred from the video-on-demand business, or sell unfettered bandwidth to customers. They should take all the tax breaks doled out to them over the past decade and spend them on building out the fiber network, and not just to the curb, but into every home that wants it.

Past is Prologue
History shows that trying to stop technology in its tracks is a fool’s errand, no matter how powerful you are. For the sake of survival, the studios and cable companies are going to have to wake up or die. We can see where this is all going, and a fleet of gas-guzzling trucks is not going to take us there.