Why Do Self-Professed Pundits Keep Announcing The End of Blu-ray?

Or, for that matter, any other medium? These people believe that the entire world will be satisfied with streaming content, and that somehow, that content will be available at a one-time cost to every single person on the planet, with not a bit of traffic congestion, or various other problems.

How bizarre is that?

Just yesterday came a story on PC World, “Netflix-Relativity Deal: Another Nail in Blu-ray’s Coffin” which again claims that  Blu-ray’s days are numbered. The story gives all of the usual reasons, no matter how half-baked.

Tuesday’s announcement of a content-streaming deal between Netflix and Relativity Media, the latter a Hollywood production company that makes mainstream flicks such as “Get Him to the Greek,” “Grown Ups,” and “Robin Hood,” is welcome news for subscribers of the movie-rental service. It means that Netflix members will be able to stream Relativity titles to their TVs and computers sooner than before. Rather than waiting (in some cases) years after a movie’s DVD release before they can watch the title online, members will only have to wait months.

This is nice, but it makes the assumption that the user will never have a want to see the movie again, show it to progeny, or refer back at any time for any reason. It also makes the assumption that we all will have 50Mb/s internet service as soon as this article is read by the ISPs. Beyond that, it makes the assumption that “all-you-can-eat” internet service will continue forever, when we are told almost weekly it cannot be done. (The reasons given for this last idea are faulty, because the problem is not bandwidth, but greed of the providers. Nonetheless, the result will be the same. When that metered access comes, these schemes will die like 7 day-old cut roses.)

OK, if you’re the instant gratification type, that’s still a long wait. But online streaming is moving in the right direction, and the Relativity pact is likely the first of similar deals between Netflix and Hollywood. Previously, recent films (such as the 2010 titles above) might have been entangled in long-term agreements with pay-TV channels such as HBO, Showtime, and Starz. The new agreement shortens the streaming delay considerably, albeit for a select number of titles.

Content Cornucopia

If you’re not familiar with Netflix, here’s how it works. Subscribers pay $9 per month to stream more than 20,000 movies and TV shows, and they can also rent one DVD at a time. For an extra $2 a month, they can get Blu-ray discs too. (Pricier options let them rent multiple discs at once.) Netflix has more than 13 million subscribers.

Netflix’s two-tiered approach to movie distribution–discs and streaming–is appealing to consumers, most of whom probably have a DVD player as well as a streaming device, be it a set-top box, game console, Internet-ready TV, or Blu-ray player, in the living room. And while Netflix got its start by delivering shiny plastic discs via snail mail, it has made it clear that online streaming is the future.

For many things and many people, it is. But for others, it will never replace having a copy for yourself, for the reasons listed above and others not so easily categorized. One reason is that incalculable feeling of ownership – even if the EULA says we don’t own anything, we know better!

“Our continued goal is to expand the breadth and timeliness of films and TV shows available to stream on Netflix,” said Netflix official Ted Sarandos in a statement. “Historically, the rights to distribute these films are pre-sold to pay TV for as long as nine years after their theatrical release. Through our partnership with Relativity, these films will start to become available to our members just months after their DVD release.”

This will cut into pay television, either driving the price down, the selection up, or both. This is a very good thing.

Blu-ray, We Hardly Knew Ye

So where does this leave Blu-ray? The high-def successor to DVD has its proponents certainly, some of whom see the format as a great way to bring 3D entertainment to the home. But the consumer demand for 3D TV remains questionable, and Blu-ray is increasingly looking like an anachronism in today’s online-oriented world. Content deals like today’s Netflix-Relativity pact highlight the growing importance of the Internet as an entertainment-delivery system. It also gives consumers yet another reason to pass on that bargain Blu-ray player at Costco.

The fact that many new Blu-ray players have built-in Internet streaming (with Netflix access) is a good indication of their true value. Soon, I suspect, they’ll be used more as set-top boxes to access online content rather than as disc players.

I hate to rain on this guy’s parade, but the majority of people I know use this type of streaming in conjunction with purchase of films, and other entertainment, on media. The way it works is that the vast majority of things are streamed, and anything worth archival storage or even a second look is purchased. It saves buying stinkers at the local Wal-Mart, and still allows the family to see lots of things that they would otherwise not pay the cost of the DVD.

I don’t think I am in any sort of minority here, as there is something special about ownership. There is also the immediacy of going to the shelf and watching in 30 seconds, without any need for any type of internet connection whatsoever. There is also the knowledge that, no matter what we get told in the PR, the streaming content is squeezed  (almost to death) and anyone who cannot see the compression artifacts is just not paying attention.

No, Blu-ray may not be all Sony hoped it would be, but it is destined to a long and healthy life – at least until something more convenient, more reliable, and less costly comes along.

( I truly hate these doomsayers with their premonitions of the end of something, as they are usually about as correct as a Ouija board. If I had known the author of the PC World article personally, I might have been tempted, using my best Aykroyd impression, to begin the rebuttal with “Jane, you ignorant slut!”)

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Marvin-the-martian What if you want to see my exploits with Bugs Bunny at 3 AM, on your vacation at the mountain cabin, far from civilization? Streaming just is not going to be the method you use…


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