Movies and the net

In my opinion accessing movies is probably the best example of the power of the internet. Unlike music, video is much much larger and often has a more finite life. Many people will listen to albums many times but there are a number of people who will rarely watch a movie more than once or twice.

In some other countries there are some amazing options for accessing movies online. The best example I can see is Netflix within the US. What started as a DVD rental service has expanded into on demand streaming of near DVD quality movies and TV shows. I have seen similar in Australia, sites like Bigpond Movies and Quickflix are offering a similar model to the original Netflix with DVD's available for rental. The biggest problem with both is the cost. The pricing when compared to Netflix (even factoring in currency exchange rates is very high).

Service Movies per month Movies at once Cost per month $AU
Netflix Unlimited 2 $19.57
Bigpond Movies 8 3 $19.95
Quickflix 8 2 $19.95

Notice anything special with this comparison. I deliberately didn't pick the most basic option with Netflix as it makes the comparison even more laughable. But my issue is where are our the online retailers. Netflix approach this by allowing unlimited access to a subset of their library on demand through the internet. For the example above if you are entitled to two movies at once it will allow you to have two movies being streamed to your house at once. People will immediately be thinking, but Netflix only allows streaming access to a subset, but they are still offering 12,000 titles this way, which isn't too bad when the Australian sites only have libraries of about 35,000 DVDs. And with the Netflix plan you can use both the DVD's and the online streams.

I see this streaming model really is the future, why have a large library of movies in your house when you can pay a low monthly fee to access a much larger library. I'm sure if you do the money over many years it might be worth it but it may not be a fair comparison. In my case I have about 200 DVD's acquired over the last 4 to 5 years which at an average price of $20 each totals $4,000. If I even had the plan listed above I would have only spent about $1200. And an unexpected benefit, especially as someone who lives in a smaller inner city apartment, is that I would not need boxes or shelves full of DVD's just to have my own library. All I need is my internet connection.

Sure this does have some downsides when compared to having a local copy of a movie, the main one being ability to access movies when offline, but for me and I would imagine a lot of people this is not much of an issue, a bigger issue is the internet connection. This is different to listening to music which is done offline probably more often than online due to MP3 players and mobiles with the same ability.

The state of internet connections in Australia really isn't too good. Often it is written in the tech press about the problems with internet in the US and how hard done by US users are. Most of them would feel truly shocked if they suddenly inherited our internet options. The speed of connections in Australia can be okay, it is quite possible to get a connection of 2-20 Mbps within quite a few areas within the capital cities. Notice I did not say just in metro areas as coverage varies from exchange to exchange. But these speeds mean very little for a lot of services when you have a download cap of 20-40 GB per month and pay a reasonably high amount for the privilege. And all of that is not too bad if you live in an inner metro area but live in an outer suburb or a short distance out of the city and the options are a lot worse.

Okay, so in a wonderful magical world where Netflix is available in Australia, you are still hit by the internet connection problem. Netflix list that a 4 Mbps connection is required for HD content. So looking at a single 90 minute movie at 4 Mbps it will require about 2.7 GB to download it. So even if you can get the Netflix plans you can still only watch a small number of movies per month unless you pay a huge amount for your internet connection.

However I have seen what could be a light on the horizon. One ISP announced an arrangement with the Australian distributor of Tivo to unmetered content from the service. For those of you who don't have download caps, unmetered content is data that the ISP does not count towards your monthly quota. Really deals like this are not only good for the users they are also nice for the ISP, it means they have the data enter their network once, then can retransmit to their users.

But why would you use this when you are able to get movies free through various BitTorrent sites anyway. That is a reasonable statement, but I use BitTorrent quite a bit, but really just because there is no better alternative. I would be happy to pay $20 a month for access to a large library of movies, especially as a paid service will hopefully have more investment into infrastructure so it would be quicker. Finally I don't care greatly about the argument that I am paying for something I could get for free, I'm paying for convenience and availability.