Six January Days That Shook the Media World

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Lenin-iPad The 2011 Sundance Film Festival ends today and I have this to say about it.

Actually I have nothing to say as I wasn’t there.  But I do have a question.

What percentage, do you think, of the films screened for the first time at Sundance will be seen for the first time via DVD, VOD, Blu-Ray, Netflix Instant Watch, rented from iTunes or Amazon, seen on a free-with ads-site like SnagFilms or Hulu, or perhaps more significantly, downloaded as a torrent or from a Rapidshare-type service?

If that question intrigues or concerns you, then Sundance wasn’t the only significant film-related event of January 2011. Here are six others that will play a major role in the way people watch movies in the future.

January 6:: More than 80 iPad-style tablets are introduced at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.

Is the electronics industry is betting the bank on making the Tablet a mass market product like the DVD player and Smart Phone?

If they succeed, what will that mean for Netflix, iTunes, Amazon Video on Demand, Hulu, as well as sites like SnagFilms, Mubi, IndiePix, etc.? Is this product going to be a game-changer for online video?

 

comcast January 18: The FCC approves the NBCU merger. Comcast agrees to give up management rights of Hulu, while retaining their co-ownership with News Corp and Disney.

What does it mean to the way TV and films are watched online when a cable company owns such a monumental amount of content?

Even if Comcast doesn’t have management rights over Hulu, what’s to stop them from pulling out “SNL,” “30 Rock,” “The Office” and the rest anyway? Will managing Hulu even matter? (see below).

 

lovefilm1 January 20: Amazon buys LOVEFiLM, Europe’s Netflix. LOVEFiLM, has 1.6 million members and operates in the UK, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, and Norway.

Amazon has the advantage of being able to integrate LOVEFiLM into their Amazon stores in the UK and elsewhere. With their vast resources they have the potential to be the dominant player in international online video.

This is not an easy business, as it is complicated to secure rights to major studio movies for a host of different territories. Apple has been selling online video through many of their international iTunes stores for years. Netflix expanded into Canada in September where it has been an enormous success, and Netflix’s Reed Hastings has suggested that he has plans to expand Netflix to other countries.

Online video outside the US is on the move like never before. Has its time finally come? What will this mean for a film industry that is still trying to figure out how online video will work here?

 

Google January 26: Torrentfreak reports that Google has begun censoring file-sharing-related terms. Per Torrent Freak’s story, search engine results for "BitTorrent," "RapidShare," "Megaupload" will be filtered out from its instant search and auto-complete search features. As of now, the filter does not affect full Google search results.

The Pirate Bay and the rest are pikers when it comes to finding Torrents and compared to Google. Will they extend their filter to full searches, which is the only thing that matters? Assuming they do and their filter is effective, will this provide serious assistance to the efforts of the MPAA and the RIAA to stem online piracy?

 

netflix-iphone-2 January 27: Netflix releases its fourth quarter profit report and subscriptions are up 166% (3.08 million) from fourth quarter 2009 (1.1 million). They end 2010 with 20 million subscribers, up 63% from the previous year.  All signs are that this growth will continue. To put this in perspective, there are about 120 million households in the US with a TV.

 

jackboot---hulu January 27: The Wall Street Journal Reports Strife at Hulu

The Journal reports that Hulu founder Jason Kilar threatened to quit if the price on the “Hulu Plus” subscription service didn’t go from $9.99 monthly to $4.99. A compromise was made at $7.99.

While Comcast isn’t involved in decisions on Hulu’s future, Fox and Disney are increasingly feeling that Hulu, may be cannibalizing their cable profits. Disney has blind-sided Kilar by ”quietly” setting up their own Hulu-type service,

The Journal also reports:

In what would be a major shift in direction, Hulu management has discussed recasting Hulu as an online cable operator that would use the Web to send live TV channels and video-on-demand content to subscribers, say people familiar with the talks. The new service, which is still under discussion, would mimic the bundles of channels now sold by cable and satellite operators, the people said.

In other words, they are discussing killing Hulu as we know it.

If they really did this, instead of a site with free movies with very few commercials, it would be a subscription service with all the commercials you see on cable. Sound appealing to you?  Personally, I’d rather watch my cable TV using my DVR.

Hulu is not the real issue. Worries about Hulu are basically worries about the future of cable TV. The real question is: can the studios hold onto the highly profitable cable business model they have today? Or will the January I’ve written about above be followed by a February and a March and an April and a May and on and on forever in a never-ending evolution of the way new technology, new business concepts and the internet affect the way we watch movies and TV?

Can the major studios and the cable companies catch all the fireflies that are buzzing around their heads?

Your thoughts?