Super, Trespass, Melancholia, Quarantine 2: Terminal, Black Death, We Are What We Are, Red State, Kidnapped, Rammbock: Berlin Undead, Phase 7 (Fase 7), Hobo With A Shotgun, The Shrine, Burke & Hare, Cold Fish, Atrocious, The Last Circus, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil , Outcast, The Pack (La Meute), The Human Centipede Part 2: Full Sequence, Chillerama.
What do those films have in common? They’re horror films (or films with enough intensity, gumption and violence for tertiary association) that incorporated Video On Demand into their distribution models in a major way this year.
While Blu-ray is still my preferred method of home viewing (streaming and downloads still don’t come close in terms of quality), it’s becoming apparent that it’s more of a collector’s format. DVD isn’t dead, but the sales are in decline. Brick and mortar stores like Blockbuster are dropping like flies. Movie theaters are still somewhat healthy, but the theatrical experience isn’t. If exhibitors don’t enact some serious quality control measures (against poor projection, texting, talking, commercials etc…) then it could shift from “slowly dropping” to “circling the drain” in a matter of a few years.
What can’t be disputed is that, in terms of the distribution of entertainment, the internet will increase its role every year and will continue to dominate in terms of new revenue streams. Like the universe, it keeps expanding. For better (greater access to information, more convenient distribution) or worse (low quality/piracy).
Just look at that list above. It’s kind of staggering. Most of these films aren’t in the hands of the cavalier. It’s not just people deciding to toss their product wherever they can – it’s been decided that (for a particular type of title, at least) the best way of ensuring and maximizing a return on investment is to include this new delivery method in your distribution plan. Not all of them eschewed theatrical releases, some VOD windows were placed before public exhibition (an increasingly popular move), day and date with public exhibition, or after public exhibition. In most higher profile cases, it was the combination of a limited theatrical window with a concurrent VOD release that did the trick. Most of you don’t have access to a theater showing Melancholia, but you do have an internet router.
Even big studio, non-horror titles are dipping their toes in the water. Universal flirted with releasing Tower Heist as a $60 dollar premium in-home experience before angry theater chains leveraged against it. And Sony – the corporation that invented Blu-ray – is releasing Moneyball as a digital download almost four weeks ahead of their DVD/Blu units. In fact, Sony has tried this with several releases like and has seen a 24% gain in digital sales profit than day-and-date releases from similar films – without a significant erosion in the consumption of their physical discs.
But one day, relatively soon, the sales of those physical discs will likely erode almost to the point of exterminating those formats. It’s the way of the future. In fact many of you probably have stopped buying/renting physical discs.
The only real problem with this is it’s currently a battle between quality and convenience. Convenience will ultimately forge the path – but that doesn’t mean we can’t insist on extracting quality from the paths that convenience. Don’t fear the future, but please empower yourself as a consumer within it.
Demand that VOD streams improve in audio/visual quality. You paid for that nice 1080p TV – don’t settle for a 720p stream in the wrong aspect ratio. The infrastructure for VOD and Digital Downloads (streaming speeds too slow, hard drive sizes too small, “The Cloud” barely working) doesn’t support great quality yet – but if you never ask for it, you’re never going to get it.
Consider this – an “HD” movie on iTunes is 3-5GB to download. A Blu-ray can store 25-50GB. While much of that space is taken up by varying audio options and occasionally special features, that’s a fairly large drop-off – even when taking into account that the proper encode can render file size somewhat less important. I’d be willing to wager that the sources for your streaming options are about the same size. That’s a lot of information that you already paid to receive (your fancy TV, your Blu player that streams, your Apple TV, your DirectTV bill, your Netflix subscription, Ultraviolet etc…) that you’re not getting.
Demand proper presentation. Netflix, Cable providers and other outlets will often change a film’s aspect ratio. Research the proper dimensions of the film and demand it be shown the way the filmmaker intended. Also – be picky about DNR. Movies aren’t supposed to look waxy. If The Shining looks like an NFL game you’re either watching a heavily DNR’d version or your TV is stuck on the ‘sports’ setting. Either way, you’re doing it wrong.
Demand special features (iTunes has been getting better about including these – but not good enough). Really, demand whatever you need and want.
How do you demand these things? With your voice and, more importantly, your wallet. If you don’t think you’re getting the quality you deserve from your provider – ask for it. If you don’t get it (and you won’t right away) stick to your Blus for a bit and don’t pay them until they’re selling what you want to buy.*
Isn’t it more work to keep an eye out for this stuff? Yes it is. At least initially. But let’s not become a society that favors convenience over quality. You’re going to have to live in the future, but it’s your responsibility to make sure it’s legit. Video On Demand indeed. Make sure your demands are met.
*And resist the temptation to steal. It hurts the filmmakers more than you know, especially the smaller, riskier ones. Just be patient. It’s a small price to pay for making sure technology explodes at your fingertips the way you want it to.