Wait for the Box Set

Rather interesting piece in the Guardian on the phenomenon taking off in the UK (and here, as the DVD shelves in the big stores attest) of watching television in the form of DVD box sets rather than episodic broadcasts.  I’m probably obsessive-compulsive enough to fall into that kind of habit, but I haven’t yet: I’m too poor and there’s too little television that interests me.

Speaking of television, although I haven’t set aside the time to read it myself yet, I think a link to Paul Cantor’s “Popular Culture and Spontaneous Order or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Tube” is in order.


13 thoughts on “Wait for the Box Set

  1. Tim December 28, 2006 / 1:16 am

    Well theres always the box set of P.G. Wodehouse’s “Jeeves and Wooster” starring “House” lead Hugh Laurie…

  2. Matthew December 30, 2006 / 10:39 pm

    Or Hugh Laurie and Rowan Atkinson in “Black Adder Goes Forth!”

  3. Jesse Walker January 2, 2007 / 3:37 pm

    I’m too poor

    You don’t need to buy the boxes to watch TV this way. All you need is a Netflix account.

  4. Joe Populist January 2, 2007 / 4:20 pm

    Most of the series are available to rent at Netflix. You are not too poor to afford a Netflix account. Netflix is a remarkable to me as proof of the idea that the technologically complex (ie “expensive”) solution is not really the best. Here where I live, the local cable company has been constantly raising the cost of cable TV to pay for it’s complex “Video-On-Demand”. Which sucks, as all you get is the top of the sewage bucket that is big-budget HOLLYWOOD junk. Netflix—which works based on “snail mail” technology—delivers 100 times more choice at a fraction of the cost of technologically complex “Video-On-Demand”.

    Cable TV is an example of a state monopoly, but luckily we have market alternatives, like Netflix…

  5. Tim January 3, 2007 / 1:00 am

    Services like Netflix are pretty good. What surprises me is how the DVD / video rental firms seem to have maintained or even marginally increased their prices in recent years. They do seem to have more ‘deals’ and loyalty offers etc, these days, so maybe thats how they are discounting.

  6. Dennis January 6, 2007 / 6:25 pm

    I started watching some television programs on disc when I noticed them at my library. The old I, Claudius mini-series was the first one that drew me in, then I actually got around to finally checking out the Sopranos, and most of the HBO series. Can’t get cheaper than free.
    These On Demand systems will eventually be ubiquitous, once they get cheap enough and actually carry some content. There’s no reason that shouldn’t happen, if the cable companies don’t get too greedy or some real competition works its way into the industry. It makes more sense than hassling with discs (unless you like owning something) or relying on a broadcast schedule.
    I imagine the biggest hurdle to overcome will be royalty arrangements; competing cable companies might also be part of larger media companies that own film catalogues they aren’t willing to share.
    I have basic cable and Comcast charges me something like a buck a month to keep the box with On Demand. The occasional oddity pops up on their free movies selection, stuff that never would have come to mind, but their selection is pretty lame. The best feature of On Demand might be that anything you come across while channel surfing you can identify with a press of the button.

  7. Joe Populist January 9, 2007 / 7:08 pm

    Dennis, the cost of “On-Demand” has been paid for by increases in your basic cable service. And why are you paying a dollar a month for something you dont’ use. Of course, if you use the On-Demand box, you’re paying $8 for some video you can rent from Netflix at a fraction of the cost. If you recall, the rate of cable rate increases was a national issue all through the 90’s, that was before Congress. The other problem was poor quality. Here in Suburban MD, the local government received literally thousands of complaints over interrupted service and weak signals. Ironically, the bad service and the poor quality control just encouraged the trend toward video rental services like Netflix and alternatives like satellite TV. Cable TV is a prime example of how “privatization’ of what ought to be a publically owned utility is not free enterprise at all, but merely state sanctioned private monopoly. That’s the trend for most of what constitutes so-called “free enterprise” in modern America:privatizing public property and socializing private risk. It’s a joke to say we have “free enterprise” in America; what we have is socialism for the rich and well-connected. As in the example of the cable industry, the public is left helpless at the hands of an private oligarchy.

  8. Matthew January 9, 2007 / 10:49 pm

    Tim, traditional video rental firms still have the advantage of being in your neighborhood. Netflix is great, but if you want to watch a particular movie tonight, it can’t help you unless you plan ahead.

    Personally, before I was able to get free cable I used Netflix. I could watch my favorite shows and movies every night for a third the cost of a cable subscription. Now that DVDs are accepted as a huge part of Hollywood’s business model – you can find DVDs of your favorite shows only months after the season is over. Why mess with cable when you have that deal?

  9. Tim January 11, 2007 / 2:49 am

    Matthew makes a good point. You can often transfer more data more cheaply and easily by “sneaker-net” than through organised data networks. As the price of memory sticks fall, sooner or later we will see digital TV players etc. with USB ports. Who knows? Maybe people may go to the store and have their portable hard disk loaded up with a month’s viewing for them. Even the “fattest pipe” commercially available broadband IP networks have a hard time matching the data download embedded in bringing a box set home from the store.

    What would be really cool is more local swap and second hand digital video stores. DVDs and CDs, despite originally being advertised as a rugged media format still seem too delicate. That’s probably deliberate.

    Still this whole electronic media market is still underdeveloped, probably because of the dominance of the big media corporations and various legislative protections they have purchased for themselves in the shape of the DMCA etc. …as well as the technical difficulties in developing true digital copy protection.

    Many years back I remember Milton Friedman in one of his Newsweek columns outlining a possible future for a “pay TV” marketplace that paralleled printed media publishing. He imagined high price low volume distribution ‘quality’ programs where the customer paid the full price. A bit like high quality art books. Then he imagined sectors of part pay and free (advertising financed) content. The parallel here was to advertiing subsidised newspapers and ‘free’ papers.

    Since he wrote that, my guess in the early 1970s, new technology and Rupert Murdoch have meant that this kind of diversification has started to appear. Minority tastes are better served than they were, even if it is only FoxNews on the right and Michael Moore / “Supersize Me” type DVD documentaries on the left. In effect the old idea of ‘the party press’ has really returned to electronic media, much to the chagrin of those who want only their own voice echoed.

    Still the high end high quality high priced for pay content Friedman imagined has yet to emerge. I suppose the difficulties in preventing decryption and various forms of ‘piracy’ have discouraged investment in this sort of quality narrowcasting. Unfortunately DMCA type legislation, that the US government is foisting on the whole world via ‘free trade’ treaties, is more focused on protecting the global interests of the big media corporations than niche producers. At the same time video and audio production costs are dropping through the floor as “prosumer” technology and internet distribution reaches the masses. Some good stuff emerges from this mass but there is plenty of chaff. Still there is a hell of a lot of haff, from both amateurs and ‘professionals’.

  10. Joe Populist January 11, 2007 / 3:21 pm

    Interestingly enough, I applied for a position at the local Netflix facility, and learned they’ve got a DVD manufacuturing facility at each location. What they are doing is manufacturing DVDs as needed from a data base. The real difference between DVD and the Cable “VOD” business model is delivery method.

    Recently, Blockbuster has been pushing their online service citing the advantage that Matthew mentioned of returning the DVD to the local Blockbuster store. I must admit, that’s a nice feature. But the problem is that Blockbuster has limited choice. I mean if you want the latest offel from Corporate Hollywood, fine. But if you want access to the complete access to almost everyone of Akira Kurosawa’s Samurai movies, for example—forget it. Documentaries, classic movies from the 1920s…Andy Warhol’s underground hits like “Women in Revolt”—still the most biting social commentary on the problems of original feminism—you can get from Netflix. Not to mention, the TV series on DVD that begain this discussion.

    Can’t help it, but I’m a big fan of Netflix’s business plan over “Pay-On-Demand”. You’d never convince me to go back to cable. I think it is because NF is the upstart in a media world dominated by Corporate conglomerates who thought they had the market all locked up.

    On thing everyone forgets is that Corporations are as big a threat to free markets as big government. In it’s own little way, NF is the Milton Friedman free market success story, perhaps not the way he envisioned it.

  11. David January 11, 2007 / 3:30 pm

    The media conglomerates have spent more time and effort and money in trying to derail video/audio file sharing programs then they have in almost anything else in the last 10 years. Now you buy a CD or a DVD, and they’ve got file copying locks built in. RealMedia does the same thing…the downloaded file you copy to a CD-R from the hard drive won’t work.

    However, it’s all futile. Anything that your computer output to screen or to speakers can be captured. One software that does this is REPLAY…

  12. Tim January 12, 2007 / 9:00 am

    Speaking about ‘priracy’ Lawrence Lessig has a great article here about how “Corporate Hollywood”, to use Joe’s term, actually has something of a piratical past.

    I think Lessig (see his site here) is a useful guru in this IP debate. The way I read it Lessig’s position is a kind of “CopyMiddle”, or moderate position, between the “Right wing” corporate / protectionist (i.e. “Soft Property Mercantilism”) that dominates both major parties in Washington and the I.P. anarchist and “CopyLeft” positions advocated by guys like Stephan Kinsella (see here).

    The dominance of “Soft Mercantilism” in Washington is now exported world wide thanks to the increasing influence of WTO, NAFTA, and all sorts of bilateral inter-governmental “Free Trade Treaties” (e.g. the Australia – US FTA). This represents the fall of a kind of “Shrink Wrap Curtain” rather a free market revolution. The old American revolution against foreign mercantilist dominance has now come full circle.

    Regardless of whether you support the “CopyRight”, “CopyMiddle” or “CopyLeft” positions, or whether you support ToryAnarchism, anarcho-capitalism, constitutionally limited government or just old fashioned small government, this is all a little strange. The idea that property definition, one of the few ‘legitimate’ government functions, at least according to the old classical liberals, needs to be internationalised and negotiated and enforced via high level diplomatic arm wrestling (hardly a form of representative government) rather than left to a patch work of national or sub-national governments, is a modern development that the old classical liberals would probably find obnoxious.

    And of course, as this excellent Wired article points out, the new Soft Mercantilism, whatever it’s “free trade” branding, the new mercantilism is really just old fashioned protectionism under a new guise, and it’s no more likely to protect Americans’ economic interests in the long run than the old protectionism protected the American merchant marine.

  13. Joe Populist January 19, 2007 / 8:26 pm

    Opps…did we notice, Netflix is adding online movie delivery. It will be limited to 1000 movies, which is more choice then you get with most “On-Demand” cable companies. The financial pundits don’ t think that Netflix has enough money to compete against the big guys. But I doubt even the “big guys” (The CABLE conglomerates like ViACOM) believe that the kind of giant capital investment it would take to become a true “Video-On-Demand” service is worth it. VOD is a gleam in the technology freaks’ eye right now, and only time will tell if it really pans out to put NF out of business. But I’m glad that NF is doing this market experimetn and keeping on top of the market and the technology, as it changes.

    SEE: Netflix Gets Digital Net video service unveils long-expected digital video distribution.

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