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August 7, 2006
Equivalent, High-Quality, Legal Alternatives
What's a good legal alternative to taping/DVRing the latest episodes of your favorite TV series and sharing them with friends? Well, um, mostly nothing. Eventually the shows will come out on DVD and can be rented. But what if they were availabel for rental at the same time, or maybe even before, they hit the air or cable?
There's no technological reason this can't be done, or couldn't have been done any time in the last five years. Only now it seems like the networks might be twigging to the commercial possibilities inherent in this line of business. As a form of toe in the water, NBC has done a deal with Netflix to make episodes of two of its series available through the online/mail rental company well before they premiere on TV.
Netflix's benefits are obvous - it gets rental monies from people who can't wait to see the new episodes. People who don't much rent movies may be crazed about certain TV shows and sign up for a service if it gives them a six-week jump on everyone else. In addition, this particular deal gives Netflix promo time in prime time.
The real question is what's in it for the Cartel? As with so many of these things, the reasons are shrouded. We might guess that the Cartel have a larger faith in the DRM wrapped on these disks - they're DVDs but may contain additional anti-copying software. Or they may simply be waking up to the reality that they're losing out on revenue.
I've been saying for years that what downloadable music services do is fundamentally like selling bottled water - take a product that people can get effectively for free (water) and package/market it as a high quality experience. ITunes has flattened the competition by doing precisely this.
If this deal moves from another promotional stunt to an operating business model we may find ourselves with an actual competitive marketplace in digital television episodes. Wouldn't that be nice.
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