This is a guest post from Tom Cheredar, a staff writer for Geeks of Doom and freelance journalist who covers technology, comic books and geek culture. You can find links to more of his work on his web site tomcheredar.com.
In an effort to compensate for slumping DVD sales, the largest consumer electronics retail store Best Buy announced a partnership with CinemaNow that would add a digital delivery service within all Internet capable devices — thus pitting the retailer against a handful of mighty competitors.
When I managed to pull up the article on NPR, the Best Buy / CinemaNow partnership was billed as “embracing digital delivery of home video” but this is a misleading claim and furthermore — a real ass-backwards approach to selling movies online.
I take “adding a digital delivery service” to mean: embedding all high-speed Internet capable devices sold through Best Buy with a proprietary software that utilizes the hardware I’ve just purchased. I’m really not interested in having a RETAIL company force feed a software bundle onto me, thus making it difficult to remove and possibly just as difficult to enable competing services should I want to use them instead. I remember the bloat-ware days of buying a Windows PC.
This is also quite unlike the current competition that exists in the “digital delivery” market. Netflix sends media the old fashioned way (through snail mail) and offers a complimentary streaming media library to it’s subscribers. Amazon (I believe) asks it’s consumers to use a free downloader app when purchasing media from their online store, which is probably to ensure the file does not corrupt when transferring. Apple’s iTunes “digital delivery” is handled entirely through their own program, which includes purchases. It’s DRM-free so you can access the files to play them elsewhere, move them, etc.
Apple tried the model of forcing customers to use one service to manage, maintain and grow personal media collections — and all said and done — it made far more sense to buy a Mac Mini than it did to buy Apple TV. At least with apple’s model you got to share the media library on your computer (both Mac and Windows PC) with the one on your set top box. If the CinemaNow / Best Buy service doesn’t let you share your collections regardless of device, it’s worthless.
Unfortunately, at this point it seems like CinemaNow will exclude certain devices based on prior partnerships. Basically, anyone with a Mac can forget using it as well as anyone wishing to run the service through their PS3. Also, it looks like they employ DRM on a large portion of their media files, but I’m not sure to what degree.
That being said I’m less than thrilled with the idea of buying a video through the CinemaNow service.
Alternately, if the service were to focus entirely on rental sales it might have some traction to compete with the likes of Comcast, Time Warner, Brighthouse and other cable providers. Their “digital delivery” model is more akin to a “Comcast On Demand” in the sense that it forces you to use one service without allowing you to shop around on other services. And the thing about Comcast’s service is, people sort of hate it. And by sort of I mean they really only use it because the alternatives are either far more costly or not worth the time and effort.
A solid rental-service backed by Best Buy could drive genuine competition between the cable providers by giving people a choice between the two.
But lets not overlook that Best Buy is motivated by a need to compensate for lost profits. The partnership with CinemaNow, however, IS NOT because their model of distribution is better for consumers.
If they really wanted to compete in this market they shouldn’t be following the same monopolized “use what we give you, and tough shit if you don’t like it” model that the cable companies get away with.