Thursday, July 8, 2010

Who's Cow Is It Anyway?

While arguably, the digital cat is out of the analog bag, Hulu which streams the most amount of television shows online (legally) announced they were going to start charging for much of their premium content. You could still get some of the old stuff for free, but in order to sate your appetite for "Gossip Girl" or "30 Rock" you'd have to $10 a month to get it on your iPad. And that's still with the forced salad dressing commercials. (All of "Rockford Files" and "Banacek" are still available. I guess a new generation doesn't consider them "iPad"y.)

In the shift to online-only editions, Time Magazine is also moving to a paywall strategy - the newest issue's articles are shortened and only older (and less relevant) news is available for free. This is an effort to protect its content from freeloaders on the web, who don't pay their way and cost relatively little to deliver to, but are troublesome in that they demand more and more content in real time, something print-based magazines are still having a hard time figuring out how to do. Paywalls are confusing and controversial. But it seems the last way to save the dying print industry, in a race with music to the bottom and without deep-pocket patrons to soften the fall.

20th Century Fox has snuck a pay-subscription model by us for mobile phones (called Bitbop) without fanfare to test the pay-for-tv model in your pocket. They will offer the same t.v. shows as Hulu and soon full-length motion pictures. You kids can go make your lol videos, we're going to stream stuff you want to pay for. Because it's actually scarce.

Turns out it costs to create content, in time and in money. Ipads and iPhones have changed how we get this stuff; now people would rather watch once than own and store what they have to hide when polite company comes over. Why the hell do you have a copy of "Beverly Hills Cop 3"? Apple, famously open in the beginning and increasingly more closed, is turning into the best friend of content providers. If the pipeline is singular and controlled (and works through an already-in-place payment system, like, say, the one for iTunes) paying for content just might work.

Now it's a contest to get as much out there as possible. Simply start limiting access moving forward and let the old stuff remain open, languishing in its diminished "free" ghetto. Things are changing, folks. The internet is omniverous. They're praying the long tail model wags the new stuff into a tsunami of micropayments. There may be less value in the back catalog, unless of course producers try to charge for that as well.

After all, it's first run till you've seen it. Disney for one knows you don't want to buy DVDs anymore, and intends to start supplying their content in the future through internet access that we pay for, without ever delivering actual discs, files or copies to us. Their old stuff will be handled this way as well - you'll be paying for "Dumbo" and "Hannah Montana" for the rest of your life. Their plan is called "Keychest," and they will supply access to their shows and their movies for a fee and hold the keys, as well as information of our renting and buying habits to sell to other providers.

That's one way to have your cake and get hit in the face with it as well. Why do I have the feeling I'm on the wrong end of the baked goods?

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