Movie studios still refuse to get it

Most of the US movie studios are claiming to be going to offer their movies for download, through a site called MovieLink

On the face of it, a good thing. Saves shipment cost and time. Allows to easily see the movies on the computer. And could be cheaper since many of the costs are cut.

Except that they managed to do it wrong on almost all fronts. If this is supposed to be their way to combat piracy, or compete with similar offers, they’re on a totally wrong track.

New films will be priced similar to DVDs—between $20 and $30—while older titles will sell for $10 to $20, the news service said.

That’s mistake number one. When someone downloads a movie they get less. They don’t get a nice box, or a nice disc that they can hold in their hands and feel. They don’t get any extras which movie DVDs almost all contain, and which are a large part of their attraction. And if they want to see it on their TV, they have to work on it, and can’t just slide the disc into a DVD players.

And when the offer is less, the price has to be less. Simple economics. You can’t charge the same for an obviously inferior product, because people won’t buy it.

And what do they do? They charge the same amount as the boxed DVD. And there’s another issue, it’s also annoying, because they have less costs. They didn’t have the expense, however small, of arranging for the box, the design, the printing, storage, and many other things involved with creating DVD boxes. Sure, on-line distribution has associated costs as well, but the marginal cost per movie is much smaller in the on-line versions.

But wait, that’s not even the biggest problem. This is:

he downloads available on Movielink will include copyright protection software that prevents them from being transferred directly to a laptop or portable device, or burned onto a disc that will play in a DVD player. Copies of the films will only play on a maximum of three different computers, which must be authorized by Movielink, the news service said.

When someone buys a DVD, they can put it in any DVD player they want, and watch it. Well, as long as the region matches (another totally annoying, pointless, and needless concept, but that’s a different rant. And something which is also quite easy to bypass). They can also watch it on any computer that has a DVD drive, something which is becoming very cheap and very common. This, however, is more limited. It cannot be used everywhere a DVD is used. It cannot be used as freely as a DVD can, even with all the limitations that DVDs carry.

So this downloaded movie gives far lower flexibility. And very likely carries an expiration date, since future computer installations may be counted as a new computer. And yet, same price as a DVD. Stupid.

Movies which “include copyright protection” also usually mean they can only be viewed with the specific program that the company provides. Compared to DVDs which can be viewed with any DVD player, and with many different media playing software on computers. Or compared to other computer movies, like the pirated ones they think this will compete against, which can be played with any media player the user wants.

So users will not be able to use whatever program they like the best, or most comfortable with. Also, as is often the case with these tie-ins, the program they’ll provide is bound to be limited, and less useful, than other available alternatives, for many users. Some people may prefer it, but all the rest will just be stuck.

An what happens in a few years? Other programs can come and go, but there will always be alternatives, and support for common video formats will always be kept. But with a format that just one program, from one company, supports, what happens if they decide to close shop? All those downloaded movies, those paid for downloaded movies, become unreadable data.

After reading that article, I still had one other question, about another issue which has a large impact on how good the new offering is. What is the quality of the movies? Is it identical to the DVDs? Superior (for new movies)? Inferior?

So I decided to go to their website, assuming that they should have the data there. Guess what? They decided to also make the website as useless as possible.

After going to the site I was redirected to a page telling me:

Thanks for your interest in Movielink, the leading movie download service. We want you to enjoy our powerful movie experience, but it is presently unavailable to users outside of the United States.

We hope you enjoy the products and services offered below.

If you are an existing customer of Movielink and believe you have reached this page in error, please access Live Chat with Customer Service under Help in your Movielink Manager.

This is the wrong thing to do on so many levels:

  1. IP Geolocating is pretty good these days, but still not perfect. They can block potential real customers, in the US, from reaching their site.
  2. This is the website, not a direct link to purchase a movie. The website (potentially) does a lot of other things. Provides information, for one. So why block it to all people from outside the US? Publicity is good publicity, even if it’s for someone who isn’t currently a customer.
  3. There can be US customers, who have accounts with them, who are travelling abroad, and want to check their account. Why prevent them? If paying customers can’t access their accounts, they will get angry. Guaranteed.
  4. What are those “products and services offered below” exactly? Nothing below right now except a trademark/copyright notice.
  5. How can you be “the leading movie downloading service” when you haven’t started working yet? Even if you are, why should I care? You just told me that you don’t want my business.
  6. If you actually realize that real customers can be caught by this thing, as you must in order to give that instructions to people who installed your program, then this same instruction is absurd. These same people won’t reach a stage where they can download the program, so they won’t have the Movielink Manager, and won’t be able to access live chat. You’re saying “If you can’t get to our program, please use our program to contact us”. That’s stupid.

Oh, yes, and the stupid page has the word “untitled” as the page title, and uses table elements for alignment… Very bad design. Actually, the other pages in the site I reached later, they are all formatted inside table elements.

Oh, well, I still wanted to know about the image quality, so off I went to run the site through a proxy, preferably one in the US…

And was then greeted with a more nicely designed page (visually nicer, but still the same horror from a technical standpoint), containing a little self-advertisement, links to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy, and nothing else useful. Why? Well, the main thing was this message:

Sorry, but in order to enjoy the Movielink service your browser scripting AND cookies must be enabled.

I don’t want to enjoy the service. I don’t want to even use the service without enjoying. I just want some information. But no, I have to enable scripting and cookies. Oh, well, if I have to, I have to. So I did. And tried again. Still no go:

Sorry, but in order to enjoy the Movielink service you must use Internet Explorer 5.0 or higher, which supports certain technologies we utilize for downloading movies. Click here to get the latest version of Internet Explorer.

We do not support Mozilla or Netscape. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.

Let me give you a hint. It is totally, entirely, and completely possible to download files in Firefox. Really.

Well, I don’t want to check stupid questionable sites in IE, so instead I changed the User Agent string, in essence lying to the site and telling it that I’m using IE as my browser. The sad (or happy, depends how you look at it) fact is that about 90% of the sites which insist they require IE actually work perfectly well in Firefox. The only feature on most of them that doesn’t work is the browser version check. So it was worth trying here as well.

No go:

Sorry, but in order to enjoy the Movielink service your browser ActiveX must be enabled. Click here to learn how.

ActiveX components, for anyone who doesn’t know, are full fledged programs. This means code that can do anything it wants, that has to be allowed to run on the computer. Now, for sites you absolutely trusts, when it should do very specific things you want it to do, that may be acceptable. But for a movie studio site I know nothing about, when I don’t even want to run their service but only to see some information pages?! No friggin way, sorry. Especially not with the abysmal entertainment industry history on the field…

I did take a look at their page of recommendations on how to enable ActiveX on IE… Here’s how it starts:

1. Open Internet Explorer browser and select the “Tools” menu
2. Select “Internet Options”
3. Click on the “Security” tab
4. Move Security Level slider to “Medium”

They don’t only ask to put their own site in the trust list. Oh, no. Anyone who doesn’t know any better is instructed to lower their security settings for every site on the Internet… Horrible, terrible, pathetic, and even dangerous.

Well, back to that main page. At least they did provide minimum system requirements:

.High-speed Internet access
.Windows 2000 or XP
.Internet Explorer 5.0 or higher
.Available only in the U.S.

And no, I don’t know why they have those “.” at the beginning of each line either… What I do know is that it’s possible to watch movies on operating systems other than Windows 2000 or XP, and that it should be possible to download them with other browsers.

The last thing I did before giving up was checking those Terms of Service, to see if maybe there I’ll find some technical information about the quality of the video they provide. No such luck. But I did find other interesting things (emphasis mine):

(ii) Retained Content License. Upon payment of the License Fee, Movielink will grant you a non-exclusive, non-transferable, limited right and license under copyright to create and retain a permanent copy of the Retained Content and to view, use and privately display in your Residence or for Permitted Non-Residential Use, the Retained Content purchased by you, subject to the following rules:

(A) You may retain a permanent copy of the Retained Content on the hard drive of your personal computer (or other device specifically authorized by Movielink) to which the Retained Content is initially delivered via a connection to the Services over the Internet.

(B) You may make a single back-up copy of the Retained Content on removable media (e.g., recordable DVD) in the same format as the original downloaded file to play on (i) the single computer to which it was initially delivered and (ii) if specifically permitted at the time of purchase on the Website (on a case-by-case basis), up to two (2) additional licensed computers for your personal non-commercial use. In order to enable viewing of your Retained Content on personal computers other than the one to which it was initially delivered, you will have to obtain a new license by connecting each such computer to the Services via an Internet connection, logging in to your Account and downloading a new license. Any back-up copy of the Retained Content on a DVD will not be playable on a traditional DVD player. Movielink may determine from time-to-time in its sole discretion those devices that are compatible to receive a license to view Retained Content as indicated on the Website at the time of downloading and installing the new license. Any rights granted to you hereunder (or on the Website at the time of purchase) to make and keep any copies of Retained Content is solely an accommodation to you and shall not constitute a grant or waiver (or other limitation or implication) of any rights of the copyright owners in any audio or video content contained within any Retained Content.

So, in essence, they are not letting anyone to buy the movies. Only to license the right to see them, and store them in a limited fashion on specific location that they approve. And that’s supposed to be worth the price of a DVD one can actually buy, and own?

You may not: (i) frame or link to the Website except as expressly permitted in writing by Movielink;

(iv) copy the Content or any portion thereof, except as specifically provided for herein;

Oops. Oh, well, sue me. I want to see a judge looking at this without getting into fits of hysterical laughter. Not allowed to link to the website except as expressly permitted… Get real!

5. MINIMUM SPECIFICATIONS. The Services will operate only on those hardware and software platforms specified on the Website. It is your responsibility to ensure that you have the appropriate software, hardware and Internet connection to operate the Services. Movielink reserves the right to cease supporting any hardware or software platform at any time, with or without notice.

I think this clearly shows that I wasn’t kidding when I said one day people may upgrade their computer only to find out that they can no longer see their downloaded movies, doesn’t it? It will work only on what hardware they want, and they reserve the right to stop supporting any hardware and software whenever they want, without notice…

So we have a bad deal, under bad conditions, and with bad execution. Inspiring, isn’t it?

With this attitude, I have a feeling they’re not going to see too many paying customers from within the US as well. Of course, once that happens they won’t try to figure out what they did wrong, they’ll just go on to blame it on piracy and on how people expect to get movies completely free…

Heck, I’m perfectly willing to pay for movies, if they’re worth anything. Many people are. But that’s for usable movies, not this dreck. Make the legally purchasable movies with similar quality to the pirated stuff, and as usable, and people will pay a fair price, a price higher than zero. People are aware that there was an investment in making a movie, and that the makers need to make money. Most people do want to play it fair.

But not when it’s good pirated movies compared to crappy legal ones. That’s not a competition.

2 Responses to “Movie studios still refuse to get it”

  1. Amanda says:

    There is also now a way to download some textbooks in a way that might make the less discerning consumer think they’ll save money, but turns out to be a total ripoff when you examine the details:

    I couldn’t agree more with your post. They ways the make different products (downloadable books, CDs, etc.) to prevent piracy is just ridiculous sometimes.

  2. Post author comments:

    Yes, there are quite a few book offerings like that.
    With limited expiry time, higher costs, restrictions on transfer, other limits on what you’re allowed to do with them, and various other problems.
    It’s a shame.

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