Week in Review

First, I want to pass along the exciting news that I will be giving a talk at Georgia State University on October 17, 2011. The title of the talk, “‘Make Any Room Your TV Room:’ Mobility, Personalization, and the Fragmentation of Movie Culture,” is meant to echo Lynn Spigel’s Make Room for TV, and the paper will explore the marketing and promotion of portable media players. I’ll post some more specific details in the next few days, but speaking at GSU will be especially exciting for me in that I am a big fan of the work being done by their communication faculty and graduate students. And as a GSU alum (M.A., English, back in the day), it will be a nice little homecoming, too.

I’ve been engaged all week with some pressing deadlines, but there’s a lot to talk about in the world of digital delivery. First, Sony has announced that they will no longer subsidize the purchase of the RealD 3D glasses, passing the costs along to theaters. David Poland speculates that Sony’s tactics could reopen discussion between the MPAA and theater owners about what 3D format is best for everyone, but that it’s more likely to devolve into both sides trying to get the best deal, moviegoers (who are paying $12 a ticket, btw), be damned.

The fragmentation of Netflix continues to generate quite a bit of conversation as entertainment pundits try to envision where we’re going. Anthony Kaufman argues that Netflix is essentially cutting off the “long tail” by dropping its deals with many independent distributors. David Poland has a slightly better take here, suggesting that the “long tail” fantasy has now been exposed, reminding us that production costs aren’t “scalable.” That is, mid-level indies could never sustain themselves based on what Netflix could pay. On a related note, Poland continues to lobby for SnagFilms to take up the slack here, suggesting that they are best positioned to obtain rights to (and subscribers for) an platform specializing in distributing indie films.

Netflix’s problems have inspired at least one media industry observer to suggest that the company has built “a sprawling, beautiful castle..on quicksand.” In fact, Bill Gurley makes the case that Netflix’s focus on streaming video will continue to cause problems, in large part because the first sale doctrine does not apply for streaming video, meaning that the company has to negotiate streaming rights for every film they want to show. On a related note, there is some evidence that more Netflix consumers use DVDs than streaming for their TV viewing.

The studio-supported digital download platform Ultraviolet is starting to make some noise, with Sony announcing that Friends with Benefits and The Smurfs will be their first two films released using the service. It still mystifies me that studios are expecting users to pay premium prices to store something in the cloud when they can pay significantly less to pay for temporary access to the same content, usually on streaming services. But it’s worth noting that Wal-Mart (which has been characterized as the world’s largest film distributor) may be joining forces with Ultraviolet, a move that would allow DVD buyers at Wal-Mart to pay for the right to store and access their movies online.

Finally, it seems significant that Amazon announced the release of its new video-enabled tablet, the Kindle Fire, in the midst of all the Netflix drama. As New Tee Vee points out, the Kindle Fire will not only provide competition with other tablets (such as Apple’s iPad), but it will also serve to promote Amazon’s streaming video service. Amazon’s announcement was accompanied by the news that they have also acquired the rights to stream a number of Fox television shows, including Arrested Development, 24, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

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