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The internet is winning the film market…

Posted on July 26th, 2013
Posted on July 26th, 2013

by Coop Cooper

Indie underground Memphis filmmaker Mike McCarthy had mentioned Black Lodge Video in Midtown Memphis to me more than once. He said it was one of the best cult film and out-of-print video stores he had ever seen, so this past weekend I had an opportunity to drop in and browse their stock. I had been to similar independent movie rental stores in Dallas and Los Angeles that cater to fans of obscure and hard-to-find films and Black Lodge had a better selection than all of them. However, when I left the store I was a little dismayed. Nearly every film in the store I was interested in watching was already available online.

Not long ago I predicted things would eventually go this way but it would appear it is escalating more quickly than I imagined. I figured poor internet speeds, lack of connectability/infrastructure and worrisome overage fees would keep internet domination at bay. A few things have come to my attention that convinced me otherwise…

Plummeting box office numbers: A few months ago, film moguls Steven Spielberg and George Lucas both predicted an upcoming box office apocalypse that would end the movie industry as we know it. They implied that one of the reasons behind this meltdown would be the internet. They made other wild speculations that I and many other critics laughed off… Until the string of box office bombs began plaguing the summer movie season. “The Lone Ranger,” “After Earth,” “White House Down,” “R.I.P.D.,” and even “Pacific Rim” were miserable box office failures (domestically at least). While I think there are quality control problems and marketing missteps with all of these flops, it does paint a grim picture for big-budget blockbusters in movie theaters.

Faster internet: Most of us started with dialup speeds. DSL and cable came next but DSL speeds are quickly becoming substandard and cable has its own issues. While both of those are capable (but not ideal) for video streaming, new services like AT&T Uverse and Comcast’s Xfinity boast much faster speeds capable of instant streaming video without buffering. Plus they can be affordably bundled with phone and cable services to make switching to them very attractive, even if they are sometimes a pain to get installed. As for overages, I am a heavy internet uploader/downloader and have yet to hit any cap that would require an overage fee.

Cheap and easy streaming to TVs: The Nintendo Wii was the first device I became aware of to make it easy for consumers to stream movies wirelessly to TVs through a revolutionary Netflix app. Now the top device is the ‘Roku’ line of streaming media boxes. They are tiny, easy to set up, cheap ($100 for the newest model, $40 for the cheapest) and highly efficient at streaming Netflix, Amazon Instant/Prime, Vudu and many other pay and free services to a TV. The free content is surprisingly generous and I would recommend getting your most technology-savvy family member to look into installing one. They are impressive little devices.

Smart strategies by Netflix and other services: After a few missteps, Netflix has created new and highly successful episodic series (like on cable TV) that are exclusive to the service, are high quality and include A-list stars and they release all of the episodes at once. Plus they are working hard to expand their line of online content to exceed their disk-based service. Amazon Instant and other services are dong the same. Many actors and filmmakers are embracing this original content and forsaking the Hollywood system. These services are easy and affordable to sign up for.

Mobility: Cellphones have given the public a taste for entertainment-on-demand but more importantly, phones are the best or only connection to the internet for many users. Lots of households may not have adequate internet in their homes but instead have access to a smartphone or tablet with 4G or some other fast internet connection. There are many resources for watching movies for free on services like YouTube, Vimeo, Hulu, etc… Consumers already use it and they will want it even more as it becomes more powerful and easily available everywhere.

Rampant pirating: It’s just too darn easy. This is directly related to the plummeting box-office numbers since anyone who knows how to search properly can find any movie they want to watch online for free. People seem to be more accepting of a poor-quality video shot in a Russian movie theater with subtitles, just to save money from going to the theater themselves. Often DVD-quality versions of new films are ripped, uploaded and easily accessible. Offenders are near impossible to prosecute and the biggest risk is exposing your computer to a nasty virus. The morality and legality of it is questionable at best, but piracy is a large factor in the internet’s popularity over movie theaters.

I believe as of this year that the internet has bested Hollywood. Now the questions are: 1. What is Hollywood going to do about it? 2. Will you look into taking advantage of the internet to watch the majority of your movies?

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