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Why video streaming will never be like music streaming

Kirk McElhearn | March 11, 2016
It all comes down to licensing.

With a record album, the release schedule is generally:

  • Release to CD, download, and streaming, at the same time.

There are some exceptions, but not many. Not all artists stream their music, and some labels won’t play the streaming game ate all (such as the jazz/classical label ECM, or the classical label Hyperion). And an artist can choose to sell an album on CD and by download, and not clear it for streaming right away, as Taylor Swift has done recently. But with most music, the release schedule is all at once, though, with some albums, not every track is available to stream right away.

Movie windowing, on the other hand, generally follows a much more complex schedule, which is partly based on the history of movie distribution.

  • Theatrical release, which lasts up to around four months.
  • DVD and Blu-Ray release, as well as VOD (video-on-demand) release; these are exclusive for a few months, sometimes longer.
  • Pay TV availability, starting around six months after release, and lasting potentially for several years.
  • Free-to-air TV.
  • SVOD (subscription video-on-demand), or all-you-can-watch streaming.

This windowing schedule is different for movies that are straight-to-Netflix, or movies and TV series produced by Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and other services. In addition, after a while, movies and TV shows are pulled from streaming services, in order to (hopefully) continue to sell DVDs and Blu-Rays (though many of these get discounted as time goes on). That’s why a movie you added to your watchlist last month may be gone when you finally get around to it.

Windowing can be even more complex, as there have recently been films released on Netflix before or simultaneous with theatrical release, so this system is undergoing changes. But it will be a long time before you can stream any movie you want. The amount of money involved in a film is several orders of magnitude higher than that required to make an album, and Hollywood accountants are going to make sure they optimize their returns at every step.

In the meantime, you’ll keep on spending that “Netflix hour;” the time you waste looking for a movie to watch on your subscription service, before you give up and rent a movie on the iTunes Store.

 

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