Sometimes Free Is Like a Hock of Ham

With the budding sphere of cloud or online data locker’s taking shape, a number of players are engaging land grab initiatives in the hopes of locking down market share.  While it is a good idea to offer free movies to enable consumer sampling of the product, the varied executions illustrate the core problem with the initiative. That core issue is both the lack of a standard and the inherent requirement to download different platforms depending on the distributor. So, even with a couple of free movies ready for download, there’s still a barrier to complete the transaction due to its varied steps.

Approaching this from the consumer’s perspective and looking at just two options – Best Buy’s CinemaNow and UltraViolet through Flixster – the execution is frustrating.  We’ve already discussed how one of the barriers to adoption of UltraViolet is that there are different distribution profiles for each of the studios.  In this UltraViolet case, the distribution is through Flixster.  The free offering provides the opportunity to select from a select number of titles, but it limits users to only being able to view through their Flixster Collections App.  Regardless of whether you already have iTunes installed, the user must download the App.

For CinemaNow, users are required to download the program, Roxio Now, to download the movies.  You can’t use iTunes if you have it and the only option provided on a Mac is to “watch now” through streaming as their product is powered by Roxio and they don’t seem to have an iOS version to offer.

After (or if) the user becomes comfortable with the different distribution points, there’s still confusion as they can only view their films through disparate players on their computer. I would have to search the different players to find the movie I’m looking for rather than just going to my usual one on that computer (i.e. iTunes or Windows Media Player.)

As users are becoming more weary of downloading Apps and Programs to their computers due to privacy, asking them to download yet another one is certainly a challenge.  People have been burned enough on PCs by unleashing viruses and malware over the years that they are not as likely to just download a bunch of software every time they are asked – like they used to.

I absolutely understand the business objectives of getting people to sample the experience and are beholden to technology partners and others to make it a reality. But, in the rush for getting a piece of the market, is that type of execution limiting or exclusionary?  One of the reasons iTunes has been so succesful is not only the availability of huge amounts of product, but consistency of consumption. The film industry should have taken that into consideration when launching UltraViolet or any other data locker.  It is  obvious that Best Buy or any other retailer would want to manage their own distribution and platform – if only there was an option that was more seamless. The powers that be are working behind the scenes are attempting to bring some seamless to reality, but its a challenge.

In the end, these free offerings lead to the same conundrum as the free lunch – when a kosher person being offered a plate of ham. There is a definite need for companies to move quickly to establish market share, but it might be more advantageous for groups to really work together – and look to leverage strong existing solutions – to ensure having a piece of something rather that a whole lot of nothing.

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