Give Me the Movie I Want, In the Format I Want, Right Now!

I have certain expectations from the movies I purchase and they're not being satisfied by existing products. I think there's an opportunity for sellers of movie wares to satisfy my whiny consumer demands in new ways that will earn them new money.

I love movies. They allow me to go on adventures, fall in love, conquer over evil, laugh, cry, or speculate on realities different from my own whenever I need to break. I can always find a movie that provides me with a mood or feeling on-demand. A movie is experience in a can. From Hitchcock to Tromaville, I appreciate the detailed craftsmanship and artistry that goes into every one of them. Suffice it to say I spend a lot of money buying movies so I can watch them at home. I enjoy the mini theatre in my living room that immerses me in the emotions of the films to which I have access (though I'm not so sure about 3D yet).

The following is a list of expectations I feel are deserved of paying a premium price to experience a movie. Unfortunately no existing distribution channel is completely satisfactory. I'm willing to pay a premium price to have all my expectations met and in so doing, nurture the motion picture ecosystem. I think there is room for a new category of movie products to be developed which could simultaneously meet the expectations of movie watchers like me, as well as those of the people who make them.

1. Control & Usability

I don't like waiting for FBI warnings, previews, or ads (I think I should at least be able to skip them). Nothing frustrates me more than not being able to actually use the product I just bought. I just spent a lot of money; why am I not allowed access to it? If I hit fast-forward, play, stop, or pause, I have expectations about what should happen. It's like one of those hard-sell pressure schemes: you know, like those "deals" where if you listen to someone sell you on a time-share in Florida they'll give you a free ticket to Disney World? But with DVDs you already bought the ticket yourself, and you still have to listen to the sales-pitch.

2. Instant On

With physical pieces of plastic (after I've travelled to and from the store to acquire them), I have to take them out of their case (while always failing to remove the security tape without damaging the beautiful covers), insert them into my player, turn my machine on, and load what's on the discs into the machine's memory. With digital files I can just press a button from my couch to both acquire and start playing my selected movie. For a lazy software developer like me, buttons win over walking, any day; especially if I'm paying for it. A modern movie product should be this easy to get started with.

3. Previews

I want to kick the tires and take my potential purchases for a spin before I lay down serious money. I'm even ok with spending a small fee to rent a one-time use of the experience like seeing the movie in a theatre or streaming it. The point is: I need to be able to see what it is that I'm buying before I buy it. What else do I have to go on? Blind faith? Older movies, no longer in theatres, and not available to stream, are a little bit difficult to make decisions about. Currently, only "illegal" downloads offer a solution. I fully admit I download off torrent sites for this very reason. But when I find awesome content that I love I usually go out and buy it too. There's simply no way to know what I'm getting in a lot of cases. So I think being able to preview a movie as part of the purchasing process really needs to be taken seriously.

4. Available on Release

When a movie is released in theatres it should also be released in a form I can buy (or at least very soon after). I understand that studios want to maximize theatre sales but the days of the theatre are ending and home theatre sales are increasing all the time. Maybe the theatre should be more of an ultimate-preview to help make the decision to spend money on the real thing. Go ahead and make the as-released price higher than the price when the movie is no longer in theatres. At least I can get what I want when I want it (and I'd probably be willing to pay for it rather than wait, if the movie's any good).

5. Variety & Budget

I only have so much money. I'm not poor, but I'm not rich either. I always hit my limit of maximum movie purchases per month. After that there are no more sales anyone can get out of me. If I download a movie, that's not a lost sale. That's just additional marketing exposure for my future purchases (i.e., an increase in sales potential). Studios, don't try to convince me that I'm a criminal when I'm actually helping you do your job. To this end, I think an appropriate solution is to make variety available in a way that suits the average movie lover's budget. Maybe that means charging a little bit less than $100 for a box set (I know my market can't bare that kind of pricing). Obviously I'm already spending my limit, but if an alternative distribution channel opens up that offers greater variety to me than currently available for a similar price, that offering is going to get my money.

6. Backups & Compatibility

My Bluray discs only work in approved Bluray players. What happens when there are no more Bluray players or the one I have breaks? What if my house burns down? Do the hundreds of dollars I've sunk into those movies evaporate? Do I need to buy the same thing twice (in whatever new format is out there)? I want to be able to back up my digital media like all my other digital files! A movie constitutes the type of product that has no canonical, physical, form. The essence of the movie isn't its storage medium, and in this way it is a different kind of thing than a chair or a bed. It's possible (and easy) to duplicate a movie and store it in multiple media, in different physical locations, safeguarding it against catastrophe. It's also possible to transform the movie from one storage format to another without a loss of its essence. My thinking is that when I spend hard-earned money on a movie, I buy the right to "access the movie's essence in my home whenever I feel like it". If that means 50 years from now, in some new-fangled-holo-whatsit-format downloaded from my personal cloud server, I should be able to transfer my movie to the latest format so I can continue to use it. All current "legitimate" movie formats prevent backups and longevity by design.

7. Support Creators

I want my money to support the people who make these great works of art. That's the main reason I buy this stuff: I want more great movies to be made. And that means the people who make movies need to eat and be motivated to make the effort. My friends are all creators (as I am myself) and I want them all to continue adding new and interesting things to our culture so we can all enjoy them. The creators make the stuff that matters. But I don't think distribution companies, lawyers, or studios necessarily make what matters (they help get what matters out there for everyone to access, but they don't directly make the goods). I would like to see more money go to the creators, and less to the middlemen. And in the age of open networks, I see less need for middlemen, and more potential rewards for creators and innovators to get their creations into the hands of their fans at minimal cost. Maybe the future of movies is more of a mini-startup a la Kickstarter where investors get a copy for themselves, creators get funded for projects people are actually interested in, and the profits feed creativity directly. Current distribution systems seem like they could do better.

While I recognize that creators are not being directly compensated by torrent downloads, I do believe it is supporting creators by adding a lot of marketing value (which will indirectly compensate through increased exposure, which is a bigger problem for most indies than distribution).

New services like Netflix are a step in the right direction (if only the Canadian version actually had a proper selection to choose from), and I happily spend my money on a subscription to wet my "rental" appetite. It more than replaces what I sought from cable television (a moment of history I pretend didn't happen). This has had an effect on what I would have downloaded through torrent sites because their service effectively does many of the things a download would otherwise do for me but better. However, there is still a real lack of options for making purchases; to own a movie like I do a DVD. Netflix isn't completely satisfactory.

Netflix excels at giving me on-demand access to many videos I want with just a few button presses, allowing me to enjoy a rental and preview future potential purchases. It is an example of a business strategy for making money through leveraging the power of the internet rather than fighting it. One of the things I love most about Netflix is that it introduces me to new content from other parts of the world I might not otherwise have had any access to, or been aware of. I don't know how the artists that made that content get compensated from this, but it's at least using what the internet is good at to commercial advantage, and I applaud it.

But I still want to watch videos offline, on multiple devices, access any movie I want, play/stop/fast-forward as I like, and I don't want to pay a monthly fee to access movies I've already watched (this is a difference between buying versus renting). DVDs aren't the answer, app-stores aren't the answer, and neither are streaming services. I suspect the answer to my problem is closely tied to the legalities of copyright itself (a system I personally feel is currently not in balance with technological reality) and that until it is reformed, we won't have alternative products available that satisfy the expectations of both creators and their audiences.