Friday, 16 November 2007

Why the chasm between the study and the lounge chasm saves Hollywood from meltdown

There was something faintly ludicrous about Warner Music withholding their content from the launch of the Nokia music service this week. The supposed reason for Warner's unexpected coldfeet was Nokia's other interests in the file-sharing site Ovi which is laughable but from my experience not at all surprising.

The short answer of course is that the whole music business is just a wafer away from total disaster. If you think the adjustments and consolidations we've seen so far are significant then just wait until the generation that grew up not paying for anything hits their thirties.

The video industry, while probably equally shafted in the long-run, is on a slightly slower time-line and in the short-term it's sheltered by the fact that nobody has yet put together the killer combination of hardware, software and ease of use that brings free file-sharing into the living room.

The study/lounge chasm is what keeps the DVD industry riding high. It goes like this:-

1. Most people have PCs and broadband on a desk in one room - that's where we watch Youtube and do our file-sharing. It's easy to get free files to here.

2. Most people have TVs and DVD players in another room - that's where they watch movies sat on the sofa.

Bridge rooms 1 and 2 and you have a winner and you can wipe 50% off Warner Video's next profit statement. Currently it's just too hard to move that movie from the study to the lounge. So people rent and buy DVDs, watch Freeview, and the Warner Video christmas party is still on.

Some people will say "Windows Media Centre!" at this point, and while it's a steadily improving piece of kit, it falls down on the facts. Using a PC with a remote is like typing with boxing gloves, and sitting with a wireless keyboard on your lap is a recipe for RSI. I've seen some studies that show that the majority of people who buy Media Centre PCs stick them in their studies anyhow and use them as high-end desktops.

Maybe two computers linked by wireless is the answer - but that's economically unfeasible at the moment for many people - and this has to work mass market to be a solution. The two computers option falls down again as anyone who's configuring a home network to link them together will tell you. It can be done. You just don't want to be the one doing it.

Intel had some interesting ideas here with Viiv, a flawed concept that had its heart in the right place for trying to make wireless networks easy to configure in the home. But Viiv has gone very quiet recently. Actually make that "dead".

Burning DVDs on your PC to play in the DVD player under the telly? For those with patience only and the industry obsession with CSS has next to killed this already for the legal download providers.

Some kind of smart terminal set-top box in the living room that can download movies and play them back may be the answer, and BT is probably nearest to this currently in the mass-market, but you'll still need a proper PC to do the file-sharing unless BT put Bit-torrent on BT Vision. They won't.

Media extender type set-top boxes are another option, but again currently the amount of configuration required both on PC and set-top box is too high a barrier - and they're expensive. And mainly crap.

But when some bright spark works it out, expect the end to arrive swiftly. What price a total collapse of the physical DVD industry? A return to reliance on theatrical income for major movies, and a slashing back of production costs for everybody else?

Unthinkable? Maybe - but then who would have predicted live performance being such a proportionately big part of so many music acts income 10 years ago? Radiohead giving their music away with an honesty box? Large parts of the population streaming music all day for free a la

And of course most of the people in the world are living in this copy-rightless free-for-all state already. As the picture shows maybe it's time for Hollywood to stop taking their public for a free meal-ticket and come back to the real world.

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