Amazon’s New Video Deal: A Move Toward Pay Once, Play Anywhere

Amazon announced today that if you buy “selected” DVD or Blu-ray copies of movies and TV shows, you will receive both your disks and the right to stream or download the selections from Amazon’s Video On Demand service. My first reaction was to agree with John Gruber’s Daring Fireball post: “If you’re buying a Blu-ray disc, why would you want to watch a standard-def On Demand version?”

On further reflection, however, I realized that this could be the start of something important. The studios have long had this absurd dream that they could get us to pay multiple times for the same content. We’d pay to see a movie in the theater, then buy a DVD, then pay again to download or stream the film. Only we wouldn’t. And faced with reality,  the studios’ resistance is slowly–very slowly–breaking down.

The answer to Gruber’s question is actually fairly obvious: DVDs and especially Blu-ray Discs are for watching on your big screen TV. But these days, we consume media in many places on many devices and playing a physical disk on them is inconvenient and often impossible. Sometimes we need that content in downloadable or streaming form. And while the geekier among us know how to rip the DVD and transcode it for the device of our choice, that solution is 1) technically illegal, even if you own a physical copy of the content and 2) a royal pain.

Amazon’s solution is only a baby step. While a number of set top solutions support Amazon movies, including Roku players, some TiVos, and an assortment of TV sets and Blu-ray players, these attach to the big screen and that’s what you bought the disks for. It also works on Macs and Windows PCs, which gets a little more interesting; you can watch the content on a laptop in a Wi-Fi-less airplane without dragging the discs along, or on a DVD-less netbook. But it won’t work for iPhones or any other handheld devices.

An equally big problem is that qualifier of “selected” content. Only a relatively small fraction of Amazon’s video catalog is available for Disc+ On Demand. Amazon, typically, did not give any numbers, but the available offerings seem to be long on classics and short on recent hits. This of course, is not Amazon’s fault. Left to their own devices, I suspect they would extend Disc+ to the entire catalog. But the studios control the availability, and the studios are still stingy.

Those are pretty big qualifications. But while the step is small, it’s in the right direction. The resistance is crumbling slowly, but it is crumbling.

One Response to “Amazon’s New Video Deal: A Move Toward Pay Once, Play Anywhere”

  1. Tom McCallum Says:

    Steve, excellent blog on Disc+.. and wish I’d seen it first before I linked to the obvious (Mashable) on my blog today :

    “Swimming against the online tide McCallum Solutions

    My take though is on swimming against the tide… with the glacial changes in international copyright law (the reason behind why Amazon Disc+ is only available in the USA) just an example of industries and systems that are fighting against the rising tide of consumer empowerment over the internet…. stop fighting a losing battle, people !

    (and yes, I do look forward to the day where internationally based consumers.. like me.. can use services like Amazon Disc+, iTunes etc without workarounds!)

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