Movies, TV Migrate to Internet

April 2007

Okay, say you’re a pirate. You’ve been downloading movies and TV programs for several years and watching them on you’re computer for free. Ahem. But we’re not pirates, are we? Now everyone can download movies legitimately. (And avoid the plague of viruses and spyware that typically come embedded in them.)

As the music industry did earlier, the movie and TV industries have finally accepted the inevitable: that the Internet has become the channel for the delivery of entertainment.

The announcements came fast and furious in January and February:

Netflix introduced a service that streams movies to your home computer,

Wal-Mart introduced an online video store to sell digital versions of about 3,000 films and television episodes,

TiVo and Amazon introduced a service that would deliver thousands of movies directly to TiVo devices,

• A new web site called Joost (pronounced “juiced”) announced it had reached an agreement to broadcast programs from Viacom networks like MTV, Comedy Central, and VH1,

• And perhaps most significant of all, the BitTorrent Entertainment Network introduced a download service offering films from Warner Bros., Paramount Pictures, 20th Century Fox, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and Lionsgate, as well as episodes of TV shows such as "24" and "Punk'd."

All that in the space of just over a month. Can you say the word “revolution”? You watch what you want, when you want it — with the click of a mouse button.

Of course, if you’re on a dialup connection, forget it. And even a broadband connection could be taxed. That’s why I consider you very lucky if you live in Fairfield, Iowa.

Complementing these developments is the introduction of fiberoptic cable to the home, now happening in Fairfield and gradually in other areas around the country. This will be yet another revolution. This cable, made of thin strands of glass and using laser technology to transport data, has voluminous capacity for delivering data to your home.

Lisco’s Fiber-to-the-Home in Fairfield will not only deliver Internet but also will be the conduit for your telephone and broadcast TV. It’ll give unlimited entertainment choices, and it’ll do it in a flash. How fast? A regular DSL connection might be 512kbps. A fast DSL connection can offer T-1 speeds of 1.5 megabits per second — three times faster. A cable modem can give you up to 5 megabits per second.

So how fast will Lisco Fiber-to-the Home be? The web site says that a digital high-definition TV video stream that it will be offering requires a bandwidth of up to 20 megabits per second. And the site says that Fiber-to-the Home can handle many such streams at once, such that those in your home can be watching different high-definition programs at the same time.

Abundant choices, new pipelines for delivery — and it’s happening now.

I haven’t tried any of the above services, but I like the sound of BitTorrent Entertainment Network. That’s because BitTorrent, which uses peer-to-peer technology, is such an extraordinarily efficient system for delivering data — typically about twice as fast as other means of downloading. The TV episodes are $1.99 to download to own. The cost for renting movies for a 24-hour period is for $3.99 for new movies and $2.99 for older films. Apparently it only works with Windows XP.

Wal-Mart is selling films for a price of $12.88 to $19.88 and individual TV episodes for $1.96. Older movies start at a price of $7.50. And again, PC only, no Macintosh.

The TiVo/Amazon offering, which is initially available only to selected TiVo customers, has the advantage that you can watch the movies on your large-screen TV. The challenge with the downloaded movies is that they can’t be easily transferred to a TV. As downloading becomes common, though, you can expect that to change. Consider, for example, Apple’s new Apple TV, which lets both Mac and PC users wirelessly stream their computer’s content to their TV screen.

Joost is currently in a testing phase and its availability is limited. Apparently it will be more like familiar broadcast TV, with programs, channels, and ads — and free.

Netflix, which has been around for a number of years, lets you subscribe and receive movies via regular mail. Their new service gradually being rolled out lets subscribers also have 18 hours per month of online viewing. Again, it’s Windows only.

The Internet has morphed yet again, and now it’s becoming your main vehicle for entertainment. I wonder what’s next?

© 2007 by Jim Karpen, Ph.D

E-mail Jim Karpen