Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Netflix and the Death of the DVD?

Netflix has essentially killed Blockbuster, which itself killed the mom-and-pop video store business. And now they're saying "we're going to stop doing DVDs". You will get only online "Watch Instantly" access to movies.

Interesting bait-and-switch.

The first article I read about this was a bit alarmist. It turns out that the switch will happen over a number of years. Apparently Netflix hasn't even peaked, yet, in the DVD space -- that doesn't happen until 2013, according to projections. Nevertheless, I find the predicted shift interesting.

I see a few drivers for the shift away from physical to online:

  1. Decrease costs associated with physical management of the DVD media -- mailing costs, storage costs, replacement costs, etc. And it's not just about DVDs, either. Remember videos? 33 1/3 LPs? Tower Records? Who wants to be stuck with the world's largest collection of DVDs, when Gra-ray(tm) comes out?
  2. Better control over copyright issues. Personally, I believe this is the main driver. It's easy for customers to copy DVDs, and the RIAA is probably breathing down Netflix's neck about doing stuff to prevent this. With Netflix controlling delivery of the content via the Watch Instantly functionality, they may be able to make it harder to copy movies. I'm not saying they'll be able to control it completely (this is unlikely), but they'll be able to make it hard enough for all but the most determined to make copies, so that from their perspective they'll be making a sizable dent in the "copyright infringement" problem.
  3. Better control over your commercial experience. This is probably another big driver. We see this sort of thing already -- when you watch The Daily Show or Colbert Report online, you are not permitted to fast-forward through the commercials, and even more annoyingly, unlike your TV (which you couldn't fast forward either) they are REALLY LOUD, so that you are forced to hear them even if you try to escape them in the bathroom. Netflix will be able to sell this capability to advertisers or sell you premium commercial-reduced service. Great for improving revenue stream either way.
  4. Finer-grained customer profiling information. I would have to bet that online viewing offers some interesting data-mining opportunities, including stuff like how often you watch a particular movie, what times of day you watch it, which segments you watch over and over, etc. You know...the kind of stuff that would be great for targeted advertising.
Of course, without physical media, and customers' complete dependence on online providers, it will be interesting to see what happens to prices and diversity/availability of content. But for the reasons I've listed above (and probably others, too) I'd say that the writing is on the wall.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Another conspiracy theory? Or more proof we're too stupid for democracy?

I find it a bit disturbing that the Department of Justice appears to be investigating Rop Gongrijp, among others, on the Wikileaks thing. Specifically, we know that it has subpoenaed Twitter for records about Gonggrijp, as well as Assange, Manning, and Birgitta Jonsdottir (an Icelandic MP), in connection with creation of the video "Collateral Murder".

What disturbs me more about this than I am already disturbed by the whole approach to addressing Wikileaks is that Gongrijp is also one of the main investigators involved in a study that exposed weaknesses in the electronic voting system used in India.

So far, no one has been talking much about the connection, but call me a conspiracy theorist...I have to wonder how much they'll "accidentally" uncover while poking around his stuff. One of the big bones of contention in the India study was that the investigators refused to reveal who was the source of the machine they used in order to test for weaknesses. One very brave scientist, Hari Prasad, was in jail for nearly a week over this issue last August. If the DOJ has subpoenaed email accounts, as well as Twitter access, with as broad wording as the Twitter subpoena, there could be a lot of information in there relevant to the voting machine study, and it could be child's play to accidentally run across the identity of the voting machine source while examining Gongrijp's emails. Once this identity is found it would be simple to (perhaps illegally, but nevertheless surreptitiously) pass the information along to the Indian government.

As of this posting, the only thing we know the DOJ has subpoenaed was Gongrijp's Twitter posts (which seems rather silly, since they're public). We know this because Twitter actually informed him that the request had been made. We don't know what else they may have subpoenaed. And though IANAL, the Twitter subpoena looks rather broad to does not restrict information requested to that relevant to the Wikileaks investigation (which surprises me a bit). It does cover a restricted time period (Nov. 1, 2009 to the date of the subpoena), but this time period also covers the time in which the Indian voting machine study was going on.

If I were the source of the test voting machine, I'd be a little extra nervous, just now. And having him/her punished as a by-product of the Wikileaks investigation would be unfortunate collateral damage, in my opinion.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Too stupid for democracy?

I was driving home from dropping my mother off at the train station on Jan. 2, and turned on WPRB, to hear this operatic voice singing something about "every four or five years they play a little game, saying 'You can pick your leader, take your choice". You know I was going to tune in, then! Turns out the piece was "Too Stupid for Democracy" by Eileen McGann. It's quite amusing...take a listen, if you haven't, already.

I only recently discovered WPRB, while station surfing in my car...they have some good stuff. As does WKCR (to which I have a sentimental attachment).

Great way to start off the new year!