Hey You, Get Onto My Cloud: More Nails in the Coffin of Physical Media For Video?

In a previous post, I was commenting on the enthusiasts who continue to embrace physical media.

So, it spurred me to write when the man I bought my blu-ray drives from sent an email that he is shuttering his business selling Libredrive enabled hardware. Libredrive is a mode of operation that allows accessing the data on the disk directly, as opposed to the more ‘modern’ method of the firmware on the device restricting access. The drives I bought from him are being discontinued. There are other sellers, but it is proof that it is getting harder for those who want to own their own media and keep digital copies of their media to do so. The life expectancy of a DVD is anywhere from 30 to 100 years, estimated, assuming it was stored in a cool dry place, out of direct sunlight. Also, sleeves as opposed to cases can scratch them. Failures of well maintained discs in less time is rare.

When I shared this thought with someone, they commented it was because physical media is dead. But there will always be a market for dedicated hobbyists and enthusiasts. The Verge reported that for the second year in a row, vinyl outsold CDs, $1.4 billion versus $537 million. Physical media is still 11% of sales. But, while CDs and Vinyl are still 11% of the audio market, on the video side, in 2023, in the US, 86.3% of video watching was subscription streaming, 6% digital ‘sales’, 3.9% digital rentals, and 3.6% digital sales. Eventually, physical video media will likely see a resurgence…resurgence likely being where vinyl and CDs are today. A dedicated hobbyist market.

When the subscription services started, they started putting out classic as well as harder to find shows. But now, they are pulling things, not just older content, but new exclusive content they created for those platforms. Ad supported tiers are rising up, as are the monthly rates. They are cracking down on how many people can use the service. Why? Because these services are not making money. Netflix still is, Warner Discovery just started, but the rest are still in the red. But all of the services are cutting new production budgets and beloved shows to keep up. There may be a point in the future where your favorite classics aren’t available anymore on any subscription service.

Time to go raid the Walmart DVD bin before that’s gone too.

LightScribing and Fedora

A LightScribe disc label printed with Wikipedi...
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LightScribe is nothing new.  It has been around for years, We like the idea. After all, no one can read our handwriting anyway. And we want something that looks nice, but it easy to generate. A simple label making program that allows us to type the information and have it burned to the top of the DVD or CD seems ideal.

There are problems though. Lightscribe discs shouldn’t be stored in direct sunlight. It is recommended they be stored in polypropylene disc sleeves rather than PVC sleeves, and even certain residual chemicals on your hands can cause discloration.

For the record, the same technology, but not compatible, is available in the competing standard of  LabelFlash, which has some of the same problems. Neither of them offer color…yet.

The surprising thing is that this technology isn’t more prevalent. Of course, there is pricing to consider. We went to discounter Meritline.com to check on pricing. A 25 pack of Philips Lightscribe DVD+Rs costs $7.99, or about 32 cents a DVD. A 50 pack of regular Philips DVD+Rs costs $15.50, or about 31 cents a DVD. We picked Philips because they are about average quality. Either way, going Lightscribe isn’t going to break the bank.

Even with that, you can get DVDs for less if you look around. Our last DVD purchase was 100 Sony DVDs at 20 cents a DVD during a Staples sale. We hand label such things. But we keep a spindle of lightscribe CDs and DVDs, and do burn them occasionally.

What prompts us thinking about this again? Fedora has released a complete set of Lightscribe labels. They’ve produced LightScribe versions before, but this is the first time they’ve generated versions of all their labels, regular and Lightscribe, for all of the release versions, the various Live Disks and the Installation DVDs, as well as the blank label so you can add your own text.

Their label isn’t ideal for Lightscribe, which needs high contrast, but they’ve made the effort, and even without the background, the text and Fedora bubble logo made our burn look professional. We will have our Fedora review coming up soon, but we’ve had some trouble with it on our netbook, the first system to receive the upgrade, and want to fiddle a bit before getting to a second computer.

The Future of Video

Back of a Blu-ray Disc. I took this.
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Our two pet interests right now seem to be netbooks and video, although there are a lot of other things we find interesting.

Engadget HD asked yesterday whether or not people are still buying DVDs. A poll of people reading a site with HD in the name, indicating the bulk of the readers are likely serious video enthusiasts, more likely to be new technology adopters. However, that said, why are people not buying DVDs in such numbers as they once did?

Some of that is definitely blu-ray. But the price point for blu-ray, especially in this economy, is still not at the level where everything would buy one. A DVD player can be had for dirt cheap. So, yes, people are still buying DVDs. Those economizing are renting them, with Netflix, or even using their computer to watch free or paid content.

Avner Ronen, the CEO of Boxee, commented on Thursday that content companies and cable and IPTV service providers alike are trying to “use their leverage to better survive or avoid change” that is coming to the media industry. “No one likes change except Obama,” he quipped.

Cable programmers receive $22 billion in subscriber fees each year, which makes those providers, and the cable companies who pay the fees to ensure their customers have access to such content, reluctant to change. Recognizing that the web won’t wait for them indefinitely, many cable companies are planning to offer access to online content as part of their subscription-based plans. Private companies like Netflix could even buy those rights as well, allowing them to get into this market.

Mark Cuban responded to Ronen’s comments about how the future of video programming is ala carte with his own thoughts. Mark Cuban is the chairman of HDNet, an all HD programming network, among other things. (Please forgive me for the disjointed nature of the rest of this post, as I try to consolidate a lot of blog comments into a coherent thread)

Why does he, like so many other internet people think content producers are stupid ? Has he, along with so many others pushing internet video not noticed what is happening to the revenues of the content and distribution industries ? Ad Revenues are falling. Quickly. DVD sales are slowing. The per subscriber fees they are getting paid are going up. Not only are they going up, they are consistent.

Now I dont know about you, but for HDNet and my other content companies, we tend to be very nice to those of our customers who pay us every month. Commentary from cable networks and their content producers are saying the same thing. They can’t afford to upset the people who pay the bills.

We agree, the cable company initiative to bring things online for subscribers has a good chance of success because it makes these service contingent on cable subscriptions, and the content providers are very likely to agree to that unless another way to make more money on streaming media is offered. And the cable company keeps increasing rates, perhaps because of falling revenues. But if they don’t get it under control, more and more subscribers will flee.

Cuban goes on the endorse metered Internet, which is a likely alternative manner that cable companies who act as broadband service providers might use to ensure their revenues.

Ronen responded, with a post on the Boxee Blog, maintaining it is not the bundled offering that is going away, but the concept of a channel and the idea that the cable company is the one deciding what content is included in the bundle. As he puts it(we cleaned it up a bit for readability):

As a cable channel your primary concern is your ability to negotiate your way into the basic cable package with as many cable operators, and to get the highest fee for it.

In an Internet/on-demand world your primary concern is the quality of your content, since you are held accountable by the consumer. if consumers want your content they will be willing to pay for it either with cash or with their time (watching ads).

I understand it is a lucrative business. You invest in 1-3 originally produced (or exclusively licensed) core programs, come up with 5-7 cheap to produce shows, license a bunch of syndicated content, get cable companies to carry it and voila! you’ve got a great business. But this model breaks in an on-demand world, and while it may take a few years, the change is inevitable.

Cuban shot back his own reply, pointing out that the Video-On-Demand model works better if the cable company is delivering it with unlimited bandwidth to your device. We tend to agree that the limiting factor on the future of IPTV is bandwidth, but bandwidth to the house continues to increase as user demand encourages infrastructure increase. We have no good way of summarizing his thoughts on why channels will always exist, so we include an excerpt of it here.

The concept of “users always want choice” really really sounds nice. It makes for a great panel argument. But the reality is that its not true. Ultimate choice requires work. Consumers like to think they have choice, but their consumption habits say they prefer easy. Youtube is the perfect example. Millions upon millions of choices that never get seen. The videos that get posted and expected to be seen are the ones from traditional media and providers that already have an audience, ala jon stewart. The rest have to fight for an audience.

TV Guide and guide listings provided onscreen by the cable company allow people to plan what they want to watch, coupled with DVRs to allow them to decided when to watch it. That means people are already migrating to ala carte. Millions of choices may not be seen on TV as well. We know we can’t devote the time to search through 24 hours of programming on the hundreds of channels our cable company bundles in to get the ones we really want.

Having online content as part of a cable subscription is good, but having it as the only option is bad. Competition and variety encourages not only innovation, but keeps prices from being overly inflated. As Avner put it…

I would love for my Cable/Telco providers to focus on being great network providers rather than try to decide what content i should or should not have access to, what application i should or should not run, invent new standards for Interactive TV, Enhanced TV, whatever TV. all with the goal of trying to maintain control, so they don’t lose a grip of their lucrative business model.

Their network infrastructure is a great asset. Their billing relationship with the user is another one. They should try to build their future business around these two foundations.

Innovation in the living room will not come from the set-top makers or the networks. If you would like to see the wild creativity of the Internet come to the TV screen, well you need to let the Internet come to the TV screen..

The arguments and comments seem to go on forever. But what it boils down to is this: no content provider would hurt their profit margins partnering for a subscription-based internet alternative to cable as cable subscribers look for less expensive alternatives. Cable isn’t dead and likely won’t be if they change and grow with the times. People are willing to watch commercials on their computer to get content legally, ala Hulu. US internet infrastructure needs to keep up with the increased bandwidth demand this technology is generating. And finally…things will change. We just have to wait and see how.

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Cable and DVD Revenue Drops

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We keep trying to keep on top of the changing video watching market. Another of those wonderful articles from the New York Times came onto our desktop on Sunday, about how cable is being cut. It is no wonder the people at Hulu are getting pressure.

“So many of my friends treated cable as a utility, that it wasn’t a home until it was set up,” said Nick Jackson, 24, who lives on the Lower East Side and works in publishing. “I basically chose Internet over the cable.”

They are right, cable isn’t a utility. Internet, unless you use it for business, as we are doing(if you call blogging business), isn’t a utility. But, if you have to choose, internet clearly can bring you much video-watching pleasure. One percent of adults view televisions shows online daily, and eight percent watch shows at least once a week, up from six percent last year. This number can only grow, and the eight percent of adults who watch video online “strongly agree that they now watch TV less often.”

The cable companies are receiving more calls from people who are evaluating their bills and looking to save.

In the DVD market, rentals are doing better than sales. The emerging consumer tendency to rent rather than buy their movies is not good news for studios, because they keep a relatively small share of each rental dollar. Fox is even trying to convince people to buy instead of rent by selling stripped down versions to rental outlets and keeping the premium extras for buyers. One of the first discs with this treatment will be Slumdog Millionaire, where extras like deleted scenes and commentaries go retail only on the DVD. So far the Blu-Ray versions aren’t affected, but that may be coming,

Not everyone is with us, but we like extras. But we can see why a rental copy may make sense. Most people want to see the movie, and don’t bother with deleted scenes or director’s commentary. We think it is value-added though, and there is certainly a place for it in the market.

Disney is trying to get in on rentals, by launching a subscription-based online movie and TV rental service from the company’s huge video library.

And the cable and satellite companies continue to be interested in preventing their customers from dumping service by starting their own online on-demand services. As DirecTV sees it… “in the past, when a company tries to stop or block something from happening, it’s usually failed.” It might even get us the ala carte level of programming, if they offer pick-and-choose options that the standard cable service never would offer.

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