The Customer is Always Wrong

by on April 3, 2006 · 16 comments

The New York Times has the latest evidence that Hollywood is clueless when it comes to selling its products on the Internet. Hollywood has finally gotten around to offering users the opportunity to purchase and download movies online:

New movies will cost about $20 to $30 to download; older titles will cost as little as $10. The downloads will be available on the same day that the DVD is released–quicker than rentals, which are put online about 45 days later and cost $2 to $5.

Last time I looked, you can get DVDs of new videos for less than $20 from So an Internet download will be more expensive than buying the movie on DVD. But at least there will be some new functionality, right?

CinemaNow will allow the movies to be played only on a single computer. Movielink will allow the movie to be copied onto a DVD, from which the movie can be downloaded to two other computers, but it cannot be played on a conventional DVD player.

Nor can the movies be copied to Apple’s video iPod or the much less popular handheld video players that use software from Microsoft. The studios expect to permit downloads to portable devices later this year.

For now, it is difficult but not impossible to watch the downloaded movies on a television. Some computers, like those using Microsoft’s Windows Media Center, are designed to be connected to a television in the living room…

The downloads do not include the bonus features, like deleted scenes and filmmaker interviews, that often accompany DVD’s.

Oh, and the movies will be about a gigabyte. That’s substantially smaller than the capacity of a DVD, which means (unless they have a radically improved codec) that these videos will actually play at a lower quality than DVDs would.

The story concludes with a lengthy discussion of how they don’t want to lower their price for fear of offending retailers. But it fails to mention a much more straightforward way of appealing to customers: ditch the DRM. These files are already lower-quality than DVDs, so anyone willing to break the law is likely to pirate the high-quality DVD version, not the low-quality downloaded version. And consumers are a lot more likely to purchase the movies if they can play them on the televisions and iPods they already have, rather than being restricted to only watch them on their computer screens.

DRM supporters claim that the nerds are just working the kinks out of DRM schemes, and that we’ll soon have flexible, convenient, interoperable copy protection that will prevent piracy without getting in the way of legitimate users. It sure doesn’t look that way to me. Every new DRM scheme that’s released seems to be more restrictive and less consumer-friendly than the one before it.

Note to Hollywood: the people plunking down their hard-earned money for your products are the good guys. If they wanted to engage in piracy, they wouldn’t have paid for your product in the first place. You’re not doing yourself any favors by treating them like criminals.

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