Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Poisoning, throttling, and otherwise killing the goose

You know the goose I mean -- the one that lays the golden eggs

DVDs (in which category I'll include Blu-Ray discs) are a big market. In 2011, the last year for which I've found data, movies on disc represented an $18 billion business. Lots of after-theater money for movie producers.

A vanishing breed?
But it's a business that's shrinking -- and all too often, the purveyors of DVDs are bringing it upon themselves.

I enjoyed DVDs. I used to buy lots of DVDs. The picture quality is fantastic. I can watch a DVD movie even when my Internet service is interrupted. But in recent months, almost exclusively, I stream video content.

As a consumer, videophile, and technologist, what's gone wrong with DVDs and (especially) Blu-Ray discs? Let me count the ways.

First: promos -- and often an egregious number of them. Sometimes one can fast-forward past them (as in the old days of VCRs) -- but often not. Sometimes one can fast-forward past an individual promo -- to find that the disc is programmed to revert to normal speed at the start of the next promo. With Blu-Ray, adding insult to injury, the player often connects over the Internet to the movie distributor's servers to grab more promos than can otherwise be crammed onto the disc.

When I rent or (especially when) I bought a movie on DVD, I don't care to be a captive audience for promo after promo.

Second: too-cute start-up. Outlast the promos and can you set up to watch the movie? Maybe not. All too often you can't reach the set-up screen till after an out-of-context snippet or three from the movie or some cutesy animation. Maybe it's fun or clever on an initial viewing. But if I buy a movie, it's with the expectation of watching it several times. Cute gets old. Is it so hard to grasp that I just want to get to the movie?

Endure the cutesy intro and then comes the too cute setup menu. Not always -- some menus are standardized -- but too few disc designers see the virtues of "user friendly." To them I say: forget dreaming up synonyms for, say, "languages" or "scene selection." Shun "clever" ways of integrating setup options into a busy graphical backdrop. Let me get to the movie!

By my crankiness, you probably suspect I'm a geezer. You're waiting for me to slap my knee and complain about those darn kids on my lawn. I don't believe I'm yet that decrepit, but I'll admit to sometimes wanting to turn on captions. (Is that desire always a function of aging ears? I don't believe it. I like explosions as much as the next guy, but that doesn't mean sound mixing should prioritize FX over dialogue.) If only close captioning on discs always worked.

Streamed video (I often, but not exclusively, use Netflix and a Roku) means: no promos. No movie-specific set-up process. Close captioning that works.

I still rent the occasional disc from Netflix, because new movies (and old enough TV shows) tend not to be available to stream. I rent enough DVDs to know DVDs aren't getting any better.

Enough to know better than to buy even favorite new movies. Enough to question whether I'll replace my Blu-Ray player when it goes bad.

Movie companies, the ball is in your court. Offer products that I -- and millions more dropout movie lovers -- will again want to own.

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