Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The Twilight of Digital-Download, Pt. 3: Of Course You Realize, THIS Means War...

So, as we see from the history, the Digital vs. Physical-Disk War between Digital-rights locker and Blu-ray disk--and whether we should now be referring to it in the past tense--was the result of a collection of blunders, wild misreading of trends, executives out of touch with their consumers, and, that old self-destructive enemy of business, wishful thinking.  Some columnists have wondered whether we should have been calling it a Format War at all, when it should have been downgraded to just a catastrophic Class 5 Format Blunder.

But make no mistake--Since 2011, Blu-ray and DVD owners have been at war.  They have been caught in a war they never started, have battled an enemy they had no reason to hate until they came under unprovoked attack, and have fought for the right to stay alive in the marketplace, for the very crime that they still existed...When another corporate party, who controlled a third of the available content, felt it more convenient for their sales model if they did not.  A minority of studio interests believed that wiping out a majority of customer interests would simply be an advertising/public-relations matter of winning Hearts and Minds, and that a trendy year or two later, a grateful public would never even think to ask what happened to all those buried bodies.
Now, who'd ever pull a stunt like that?  Toss some of the means, motive and modus operandi around for the heck of it, and the answer shouldn't really surprise you.

There are a few things that, historically, almost every living-room Format War has had in common since VHS first battled Betamax tape:
The first is that in every single battle in which the competing products were the Home-Theater Collectible--like the DVD disk or the VHS tape--versus the Studio-Owned Pay-Per-View Rental option, at the early stages when the two players are still equal in the running with no winner ahead, the studios have always backed the PPV-rental option that protected their own omnipotent, unquestioned hands-on control over the movie content.  EVERY.  SINGLE.  TIME.

When Betamax first offered customers the new ability to tape Sunday's football game in their home, Disney protested the format and Universal rushed to block the technology in the courts, worried audiences might use it to, gasp, tape movies off of TV for free.  Later, when a VHS player was in every home, studio marketing played up the brand new option for viewers to order recent hit movies On Demand from their cable-TV and satellite providers--"Now you can fast-forward and rewind!"  Er, do tell.
When the fate of DVD was being decided in the mid-late 90's, major studios like Fox, Disney and Universal, and even reportedly major players like George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, rushed to back the inferior technology of DiVX--A disk system that would let viewers buy their movie on disk for $5, and, with the player connected to the phone line, continue to unlock their own movie for a small 48-hour pay-per-view charge every play.  Even the promo video showed poor home moviegoers, desperate for entertainment, being bestowed the studio's generosity literally from on high, in a holy heavenly light.  History has since told us how well the reality of the paying audience agreed with that interpretation.

When DVD became the dominant format, studios and hardware companies rushed to back "Netflix-killer" ideas that would bring the one-viewing-only Blockbuster-rental experience to the home:  The preoccupation with creating a rental-based industry briefly introduced Flexplay, a disk you "didn't have to return to the store", since the disk erased itself after 24 hours.  Disney backed the idea as "ez-D", which barely made it out of test-marketing.
Few remember the Flexplay/ez-D--now reduced to an urban-legend at best--but even that has since stuck in the public's mind as the boogeyman symbol of the studios' fears:  Like the medieval monarchs that once feared the printing press, and what would happen to the state's monopoly on information once the peasants learned to read, studios have historically had a terror of the public permanently OWNING the movie in their own home on their own shelf.  The need to make audiences aware of "their" movie, and profit on it a second time after it left theaters, ran up against exactly the reason that DiVX failed and DVD succeeded--People simply don't like buying things twice, let alone a third, fourth or fifth time.  No matter how generous the good people selling it may be.

The second thing most Format Wars have had in common, is that it's not always the hardware company behind the technology that has had the chief interest in the race:
There has usually been a second, bigger, not directly-related studio, tech or retail company lurking behind the throne, that had staked its own fortunes on which product made it to the finish line, and promotes the format with more personally invested bloodlust in the outcome than the developer itself.  As master Yoda once said, always two, there are, in the shadows--The master, and the apprentice. 

The chief general in DiVX's war was not RCA or Panasonic that produced the technology, but electronics retailer Circuit City, which reminded us of their exclusive deal to sell the hardware--The chain never escaped the tech-disgraced image of being the company that "forced" the format on the public, which didn't help its stores drastically slashing its chain into Chapter 11 two years later.
Toshiba was not HDDVD's main villain in the Blu-ray vs. HDDVD war, but Microsoft, who hoped to see their software adopted as the new default standard for hi-def video...Microsoft not only had X-Box game consoles to sell the format, but its ties with Universal, and no HD spokesman became more public and hated than Universal Marketing VP Ken Graffeo's constant cheers.

So, bringing us up to the present war--Who was the shadow behind DRM's throne?  Who would possibly have the chief interest that the studio-controlled digital-rights locker format would not only hope to win public away from Blu-ray disk, but "replace" it?
Who attached itself to Ultraviolet, in full view of the industry, right from the first CES agreement?  Who initially outright-owned the service that offered you your first and "only" door to that free purchase code they were generous enough to include with their own Blu-ray disk, hoping you would be their own private customer for life and never, ever stumble upon another service?  Who believed that Ultraviolet's fortunes were their fortunes, even when what audience they had still clung to non-players like Amazon?
Do any of those answers involve the word "Flixster", that late-lamented service you never used and could never escape?  Now tell us who they worked for.

Like I said, it shouldn't be surprising:  Yes, this is a war.  And it's WARNER'S war.  They didn't want it to be anyone else's. 
It's an old trick of Warner's, who tend to be a bit more neurotic in their business practices than other major studios--For some odd reason, if a product misfires in the marketplace, they never believe in publicly blaming the product, and they never blame the marketing strategies...They immediately toss babies out with bathwater, blame the audience and their new "waning interest in the property", and rush to correct the waste of time they clearly made down that road.  But to simply declare the product dead and pull it off shelves would have their own fingerprints on the deed, and even worse, martyr the product with loyal fans who might start nagging them with annoying petition campaigns to bring it back.  Nothing inconveniently ruins a good funeral like mourners.  
So, Warner believes it must preemptively crush resistance and absolve itself from blame by persuading the consumers to do the dirty hatchet-man work for them:  Like making a leprechaun leave your house, Warner's pet strategy for covering up its one sales alibi believes it must first convince the audience to say, in their own words, "We don't like the product anymore!  It's outdated and silly...Who'd ever miss it?", and then, well, who is the studio to argue with the will of the public?  And in come the Good Generous People to come and sweep the embarrassing old thing away, and replace it with something shinier, newer, and more mainstream-demographically marketable to play with.
And if the public doesn't happen to be saying it yet, don't worry, they will.  A little old-fashioned consumer apathy can always be whipped up in the kitchen on demand.

The "Propaganda strategy", of telling a studio-convenient Big Lie loudly, often and nonstop enough until (hopefully) it's believed by the public, is one cartoon fans have already encountered, from their experience with Warner's own cable Cartoon Network channel:
From '99-'02, the network wanted to move into more profitable original series, but felt they were "held back" by being the parent-company's corporate Hanna-Barbera classic-rerun archive for the Smurfs and Flintstones.  The trick to changing the audience demographics from vintage reruns to new cable series, CN believed, was to spend three years on an all-out orchestrated campaign of blitzing viewers with nonstop tasteless, sophomoric, mean-spirited and witlessly humor-free stoner-rage hipster "satires" of 70's-80's Boomer-culture H-B lore--In the hopes audiences' minds would be indoctrinated into remembering the studio only for the crimes of Scrappy-Doo and the Wonder Twins, and just couldn't wait for those all-new cable-original schedules of Powerpuff Girls and Dexter's Laboratory to sweep in the Great Cultural Purge.  In the tasteful Warner tradition of selling their new product by publicly spitting upon the old one before rallying the audience to bums-rush it out the door for them, the network coined its most infamous slogan:  "Some people want to watch the same cartoons they saw as kids...Scary, huh?"
Translate that to home-theater, and you have exactly the message that Warner Home Entertainment is now trying to send to the retail disk industry.  Not the consumers, the industry.   The people that make and sell the disks.  Yeah...Scary.

WHE's complaints to the retail industry began spreading its own self-fulfilling prophecy--Citing their own numbers of "declining retail", and that they "couldn't sell" any of their catalog on wide retail except for their three brand-label leaders, Harry Potter, DC Comics and Peter Jackson's Tolkien, they reduced their mass-retail vintage catalog to only a handful of cult films and creatively repackaged editions of the Three Brandnames...All bearing gifts in the form of collector cases, large figurines, or other excuses to stand out on the shelf to target customers besides just a stupid old disk case.  That came to an issue in '16 with what became known among disk fans as "the $800 Bookshelf":  A repackaged set of the two Tolkien trilogies that passed over the director's own offer of extensive new bonus material, only to package it as an inexplicably priced uber-edition to appeal to what they believed was now a "small niche" of target collector fans, who could be counted on to pay whatever the market wanted, and if they didn't, see how few and hard to please they were?
The message WHE wanted to send to the other studios with their demonstrated warnings of "declining retail" was implicit:  Sure, you COULD continue to sell wide retail Blu-ray and DVD in the stores, but since "everyone knows" the only people who buy disks are comic-convention fanboys and eccentric niche-collector intellectuals, why WOULD you?
It's one thing to get out of a market, if you think it's not bringing you the profit you imagined.  It's another thing to poison the wells, salt the ground, and persuade the rest of the marketplace to follow your example for you.  Warner had a lot more than a sales urge to stop selling mass-retail disk...They wanted to directly influence the psychology of the industry so that no one else ever would sell them, and then they would just be one more innocent studio among many.  When Warner set out to rid the world of nasty expensive Blu-ray retail, they intended to make very sure that Blu-ray retail NEVER CAME BACK.  
And trying to meddle with an entire industry, let alone its evolution, is an area that's not only out of one company's jurisdiction, but one where they'd be better advised to simply mind their own damn business.


And so, in the end, we must return to our original premise:  Digital Vs. Physical was all format-war fun and games at the start, until somebody had to make it personal.  Well, congratulations, Warner...NOW it's personal.
You took a technological innovation, and turned it into an ideological insult.  You took a tool to bring easier movie access to the public, and used it to wipe movies off the cultural landscape.  You took a wealth of new options for the consumer, and turned it into an autocratic symbol of consumer genocide.  You antagonized your potential allies by bragging to the world about how no one would ever miss them if they were gone.  You embraced your own imaginary "fears of the marketplace", and became that industry's greatest fear.  You gained no ground on the battlefield, you lost public hearts-and-minds, you not only increased public opposition against you but strengthened its moral resolve to a new level it hadn't seen in a decade, and saw your chief secret-weapon factory bombed to rubble in a fair fight.  Is this "your" war, Warner, with your name on it?  Because you appear to have just been officially defeated in it.
Is any product that Warner can't sell still caused by, quote, "Waning consumer interest in the property"?  Not to remind you of the obvious, but Flixster is now out of business, and Ultraviolet is rapidly following.   On behalf of the home-theater public, Warner, "Wane" THAT consumer interest--That's pretty bold talk for a product you spent six years never even being able to give away for free.

Next week:  The future--Making the peace...Can it be done?  It can, but it's going to mean starting from scratch.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

The Twilight of Digital-Download, Pt. 2: So...What Went Wrong?

The story so far:  Since summer '17, major digital-rights locker service Ultraviolet, the network that was promising to join all studios, devices, and retail chains into one big glorious network that would bring customers their digital movies on the go, has seen all but three of its merchants go out of business, seen its remaining business defect to its new Disney competitor, and has already lost support from two major studios...Will our hero survive?  Don't count on it.  I'm not.

I was looking for a metaphor to try and Monday-morning-quarterback the one reason that the digital-locker industry never quite caught fire as much as studios hoped it would:
Gosh, they thought they had done everything right, in pitching their product to Those New Millennials And Their Cellphones, who hate physical purchases, and it offered such a shiny new promise of recouping theatrical losses sooner in "preorders" without having to wait for physical manufacturing and retail rollout...Why, seven years later when the dust settled, and their one "brand label" became a ghost-town, didn't it just catch on?  Was it the public?  Was it the technology?  Was it their deodorant?  Was it something they SAID??

Some thought it was the technology:  The "Join or die" industry policy to back Ultraviolet made things even more confusing for casual customers who didn't want to commit to a preset selections of app services to access it, and many who didn't go shopping for the right app service found the one they registered to be poor and clunky.  A few tech columnists at the time, who'd raised their hopes about the service, even openly blamed the two-step movie purchase, the lack of big-player iTunes and Amazon, and a need for a third-party app on tech devices, for why it "didn't catch on with the public".
Ah.  That must be it.  Despite massive pushes in publicity, and free gifts from every direction, the public expressed unprecedented apathy and sales-bottoming figures toward the entire format over five to six years, creating the near-collapse of the industry, because the app was confusing...Nice to get simple explanations for these things.

But y'see, I was making the same mistake too:  I was looking all over in industry theories, and audience concerns.  If studios wanted to post-mortem a simple What They Did Wrong, they should have just gone back to their old children's folktales.

The story of Epaminondas--oh, I remembered reading this one--was a funny folktale that's since been cleaned up out of its turn-of-the-20th-century African origins to represent just about any kid's basic mistakes:
Our hero is sent to the market by his mother to buy some cake, and when it comes home squeezed into a tight handful, his mother tells him, "You don't carry cake that way, put it under your hat!"  
Next, he's sent to pick up a pound of butter--It's a hot day, he goes with the one bit of advice he knows, and things don't end well.  "You don't carry butter that way, you dunk it in ice-cold water first!"  
The next day, he's sent to pick up a puppy...Okay, that doesn't end well.  "You don't bring home a puppy like that, you tie a string around it and let it follow along behind you!"  
The next day, he's sent to bring home a loaf of bread...Er, no need to drag this story out any further.

The ultimate fault of digital-download seemed to be in the industry's utter blind faith that they had something they could sell, and that it was just a matter of selling it now that they thought they knew how:  In every debate where uncommitted supporters asked "But why would the public simply throw over all their disks tomorrow, if they've found them reliable up until now?" the only--the only--rebuttal ever offered, apart from the usual Important-Sounding sociological study of the week or news about trendy cable-cutting, was "They're going to!  It's just a matter of time, if you saw what happened to CD's and magazines!...It's FATE!"
Basically, not so much faith in their product, as, like well-meaning Epaminondas, an industry that looked at the painful out-of-nowhere lesson they'd learned from the decline of CD and print media, and believed they were now armed with their one bit of advice to handle the scary new challenge ahead of them.
And when they kept trying--and trying, and trying--to apply the successful MP3 mobile-music formula to the high-definition living-room demands of home theater, they kept dunking that poor puppy in ice-cold water until it howled.  They simply couldn't understand, in their own minds, why we wouldn't want to take our movies "on the go", the way we could with our iTunes playlists.  

Neither theory is 100% wrong, and neither theory is 100% right--There are no innocent parties standing over UV's corpse, and a lot of basic conceptual mistakes made at just about every stage. The top seven reasons, in no particular order:

1. Execs don't really understand that Geeky-Techie Stuff:  

If you don't understand how your car or computer works, how are you going to know when it breaks down?--Let alone how to fix it, or whether or not to get a new one?
And if you don't happen to keep up with current home-theater formats--if you considered yourself smug-Luddite enough to sit out the last couple Format Wars and just download a recent on-demand hit from your satellite provider once in a while when you had the time--how many theories can you make about why Blu-ray beat HDDVD in a long fair fight, why DVD wiped VHS off the face of the marketplace, or why more kids are listening to MP3 on their earbuds than on CDs?  You can spin the standard marketing-voodoo to theorize why the new pushes took hold with the public, but if you're not in said public, it won't help to guess from the outside.  Like jazz, If You Have to Ask why Blu-ray crippled DVD, You'll Never Know.
And most hardware and studio execs simply didn't:  What they knew, from long battles in commerce, was that somebody had stubbornly hung onto VHS or Vinyl LP longer than they should have and paid the price for it...And this time, it wasn't going to be them.  This, at the same time as they were still defining "Physical disk" = "DVD", and reporting "declining" DVD retail-chain numbers in the 2010's, while still in 2008 mode of passing off Blu-ray as "a limited niche market among home-theater techs" and reporting those sales figures as mere footnote statistics.  Gosh, nobody's buying DVD's from retail stores in 2017?...That sounds serious!

2.  Mainstream audiences don't really CARE about that Geeky-Techie Stuff:  

At least not as evangelically as the industry hoped they would, in imagined mass-demonstrations of smashing their Blu-ray disks with big hammers and crying "Die, obsolescence, die!!"  While the industry hoped Ultraviolet would join the public in a new network, most users who did buy or rent digital tended to think only in terms of where and on what most convenient device they could be able to watch it--namely, whatever Internet thing they already owned--and didn't quite pick up on UV merchants' promises to "watch on any device":  Those with Kindles and Fires tended to buy from Amazon, those with AppleTV's and iPhones tended to buy from iTunes, those with Androids frequented Google, etc...Hey, it was there.  
The problem?  None of those services supported Ultraviolet.  Isolation became a big problem for all the services, and some of the services began linking their user libraries together in the mid-10's, to try and take the "network" where the customers actually were.  Up to that point, however, those customers who were curious enough to take Warner and Universal's first-one's-free invitation by redeeming their free Blu-ray disk codes found themselves frustrated that they had to do it by signing up for the extra step of a Flixster service or website registration they didn't want, and then, that the movie wouldn't PLAY on their Fire, iPad or Android tablet without that extra service.  Like streaming, a dozen players were trying to sell to a customer who only wanted one shop.  The need for a poorly designed second app, only reminding them that they could just as easily get a movie from Amazon or iTunes in one playable step, didn't help much either.

3. Problems in communication:

We were told a lot about how "successful" digital was in the marketplace.  An AWFUL lot.  Studios went out to spread the news, heard it reported, and, like presidents on their Twitter accounts, spread the big news that someone else had said it too!  The problem was, no one had a clear idea of what exactly they were saying.
Ultraviolet's success--and by it, digital's--was measured in the industry press by, quote, "Thousands of new subscribers this year!  Over a million movies in customer's libraries!"  Yes, they enrolled, and the headlines sound nice without messy details, but someone had forgotten to itemize the messiest:  How many of those movies had those new subscribers actually bought?...Businesses get by on customers paying them money, you know.  Customers needed to enroll free memberships with Flixster or other merchant-apps just to redeem their first free Blu-ray disk-code out of idle curiosity; what they did with the service after that--if anything at all--was never reported.  And if I happened to be stuck with a free Warner promo-gifted copy of Chevy Chase in "Vegas Vacation" as a free signup bonus, that I didn't know how to remove from my UVVU library, I didn't consider that title to be yet one more of the "Million or more!" library titles that satisfied purchasing customers were now enjoying for life.  
That's rather like giving someone a free kitten, dumping eight more on their doorstep, and then pointing them out to everyone as the "Crazy cat lady".

4.  "You keep using that word...I do not think it means what you think it means."

The other messy detail was, what exactly was the big D-word in "Digital is bigger than ever this year!", and who was enjoying all that success?  In the majority of cases, it wasn't even rights-locker.
To execs and the industry, it was...y'know...that cellphone and binge-stuff, and that little Google plug-in thing!  Netflix-mania was just coming into trendiness, and analysts trying to analyze the big move away from cable and broadcast found they couldn't throw a rock in any direction without hitting Transparent's Emmy or Stranger Things "original series" fan-hype in the press to remind them of where the public was going.  But Digital is not "one" magic neato-10's industry, as those tech-illiterate analysts believed, it's THREE:  Rights-locker purchase, subscription-streaming, and on-demand rental.  Two of those industries did very well over the past seven years, and took hold with the public as the new pop-tech standard.  One of those three did not.  

You did not read a praise of Digital's "success" in the home-theater marketplace without reports of Amazon's latest profits, or how Netflix subscriptions were rocketing to the sky with millions of new binge-cult watchers, put up almost completely as evidence--In the industry's mind, Netflix streaming WAS digital download, and vice versa, end of argument.  If you watched programs on Netflix rather than pay for expensive monthly cable, that meant you liked digital things, QED.  And if Netflix is doing better than ever this year, well, that just proves it, doesn't it?
By logic, that's rather like saying "Lemons are enjoying new popularity, because apple and banana sales pushed fruit to its best year ever!"

5. "It's HIS Fault!"

Usually, when there's some new craze that's going to Change The World As We Know It, the news is usually coming from one of several hundred enthusiasts on the Internet who found each other and got together to declare that we'll all be speaking Esperanto, eating Gluten-Free, and spending Bitcoins in the next generation, whether we like it or not.  
Digital-download, OTOH, was different in that there was plenty of theorizing about "why" it was going to become either such an inevitable convenience or blight on our culture, but not counting the studios, very few of those doing the theorizing were actually in the camp themselves--Analysts shrugged to explain why "somebody" was the reason Digital would ultimately take over someday, a Somebody who was nice and safely distant, and whose motives were already crazy enough to ever explain, so we old duffers might just as well take our medicine and settle in.

Industry analysts blamed those darn Millennials, and their tendency to "Rely on the Internet, and refuse to buy longterm physical goods".  Millennials, who didn't care how mangled a movie looked on YouTube as long as they could track it down there for free, blamed those "Greedy studios", trying to make them buy their movies one more time.  Regular Net users unhappy with the Flixster-signup process blamed those Internet enthusiasts who knew how all that social-media stuff worked; Internet enthusiasts who found their movies intrusively attached to their Facebook account blamed normal users who were gullible enough to fall for any sales pitch.  Diehard movie-night buffs, refusing to give up their good-looking disks, blamed the casual philistine who didn't care how he got his new-hit rentals instead of the restored classics, and the casual user blamed the diehard movie buff who wanted his movies everywhere, since he didn't know why he couldn't watch his own free movie on Amazon.
Digital is more popular than ever with someone this year, we just...don't quite know WHO.

6. Welcoming Our New Overlords:  

If the industry, as the users did, saw cloud-locker as a useful tool for home-theater watching, they would integrate it into their new selection of options for available viewing.  But they didn't, had no clue what they were selling, and knew only that it was the New Thing that comes along at the CES Show and replaces everything within two years...Y'know, like Uber and Alexa did.  
As a result, there was almost no strategy imagined from the very get-go in which users might watch disks at home and digital on the go:  For a great many other reasons, users were helped along by the studios--with free gifts, retail-store services and propaganda--in the difficult inevitable change of converting their entire library for the Great Day of Change, as presumably the whole country would at some future point.  And if customers complained that that wasn't what they wanted, well, they were clearly the ones afraid of Mighty Progress.
Remember when you surrender, you only do so out of fear.  And there's no one old executives fear, misunderstand, puzzle over and try to court more than Those Crazy Millennial Kids Glued to Their Smartphones, Who Live With Their Parents Because They Won't Buy Cars or Houses...Them kids, what're they, nuts?

7. Ask For It By Name:

Studios in the 10's are not in the business of selling movies...They are in the business of selling STUDIOS.  Namely, their house-franchise brand-names, the sticks-and-stones in the war they fight on the schoolyard with the other studios, and the new "franchises" the audience creates out of nowhere with every new hit film.  
And in digital-rights, "Deals", "Packages", "Bundles", and "Bonus movie tickets" became the name of the game:  The purpose of digital was not to sell you the rare high-definition print-restored version of Sunset Boulevard, when they could sell you a house brand that was already being cross-promoted in theaters.  Warner did not give a flying Kryptonite fig if you wanted to buy only the 70's Superman movie with Christopher Reeve that you saw when you were little, or because you preferred Reeve to Henry Cavill; it was there to sell you the DC Universe labels, in the hopes you'd buy the whole conveniently-priced bundle of seven in one conveniently-priced package, in time for the next DC Comics movie, coming to theaters this summer.  Or Harry Potter.  Or Lord of the Rings.  Or Universal's Jurassic Park.  Or what-have-you.  Selling a sequel-promoted title on digital would recoup the theatrical debts from the last movie, and add to the profits needed to make the next in the hit brand label, and the next.
Studio execs didn't understand the experience of how customers watched the classic favorite movies that struck a personal chord with them, because studios didn't believe they were selling experiences--They were selling "franchise outreach" for merchandisable titles that they owned, because that was the studio's product.  And hey, why would it matter to you how you watched the latest Superman movie?...It was a HIT, wasn't it?  "Hit" means it's popular, so you want it, and here's an easier way to get it!  You're going to be picky about it??

8....Yes.  There is one more reason things went wrong.  A big reason.  No one likes to say it, but it may have been at the top of the list.  And which got ugly between the core movie-watchers and the invested studios REAL fast.  
In the end, it may have been the One Reason to Rule Them All why the rights-locker industry made no friends among the discerning film-buffs it first tried to court, and then tried to snub as "unnecessary", mock, trivialize, paint as harmless eccentrics, and then push out of the way when those "inconvenient" customers turned out to be in no mood to play along with what the majority of Joe Strip-mall clearly wanted.  A bit of frustration-enabled wishful impatience that said the wrong thing at the wrong time, continued to double and triple-down on it with resentful stubbornness over a series of years, and turned what started out as a mere trendy-eyed marketing grudge into an all-out genocidal and ideological war, in the minds of both sides...On the level of a good-vs.-evil Armageddon to decide once and for all future generations who would literally still be standing on the face of the earth, who claimed the right that they "deserved" to, and who had learned their lesson about ever trying such a stunt again.

But that's a long story.  It'll have to wait for next week.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

The Twilight of Digital-Download, Pt. 1: So Much Ultra-violence...

It's rare that simple bloggers like me ever get to break the big news--But today, May 1, 2018, I'll take that opportunity, and remember, you read it here first:
Ladies and gentlemen, the Digital vs. Physical War is OVER.  There is no longer any tangible enemy to "threaten" customer existence or loyalty to Blu-ray and DVD disk.  
It's not the moment to go out and smooch nurses in Times Square as of yet, but stand ready, over the next year or two, to pucker up.

The bad news for main digital-movie format Ultraviolet seems to have been happening in too suspiciously well-timed a storm between summer '17 and the spring of '18:  Two of its major remaining merchants folded in the same month, Disney created a rival service out of the remaining non-Ultraviolet affiliates, and two major movie studios have already publicly abandoned future support for the format.
Where Ultraviolet was originally going to create the "Digital revolution" by joining together a media-wide network of online merchants, a quick check of their website today is down to three merchant affiliates--two of which have already defected to the competition--one cellphone provider, and three studio websites, one of which studios had already abandoned the format.  If the network was going to be the iconic brand label by which the Digital Revolution of the 10's would be under, as movie sales go, it's quickly becoming clear that the Revolution will now not only be televised, it will not even be happening.

Ultraviolet's collapse and heave-ho by the studios does not singlehandedly ding-dong the Death of Digital--In best scenario, digital-download may in the end return to just being the set-top toy/app-tool and promotional curiosity it began with seven years ago. 
But to have this massive industry-wide failure in the public eye now and forever strips digital-download of its fearsome god-like image to being a mortal creature like any other hit-or-miss business venture, to where it can no longer be seen by even the least tech-savvy executives as Invincible, Unstoppable and Inevitable.   To quote Arnold Schwarzenegger from "Predator", if it bleeds, it can be killed, and to quote Damon Wayans from "Major Payne", if it ain't dead now, it sure ain't happy.

The decline of Ultraviolet in the marketplace is one of those unique failures in home-theater, in which the product was a privileged-child that actually did have No One But Itself To Blame:  
Major-studio support was almost unanimous behind it from the rollout; it made sure to avoid a long, bitter and in-fighting tech-company format-war that might divide studios, delay titles and frustrate customer interest, like the ones that ultimately sank HDDVD, DiVX and Beta tape, and it was never the victim of bad timing and even worse manufacturer interference like the sad fate of 3DTV. Digital-download was offered to the public on a silver platter--to the point of force-feeding it with a silver spoon--and in the end, the public simply didn't buy it.  Despite being told, sold, cajoled, schmoozed, rumor-gossiped, harangued, and even "scientifically" persuaded to their faces why they "did", or peer-pressure bullied why it was "obvious" that everyone else besides them did...the public simply didn't WANT it.
Even when 4K UHD's format was being crowned the new presumptive heir to home theater's throne before the devices and screens had hit shelves, rollout plans were gridlocked by long tech-vs-studio stubbornness--with delusions of grandeur on both sides--over whether the new 4K industry was going to be dominated by movies on physical UHD Blu-ray disk or movies on UHD download.  4KTV has since arrived, and among its new faithful early-adopter community, the excited buzz is about which studios will leap onto the 4K UHD disk classics, with dazzling new sound and picture, and when they'll get that chance to upgrade their physical favorites...Nobody is talking about 4K streaming.  Digital lost its second battle in its own virgin marketplace before it even had a chance to be fought, and that's a record that's not boding well for any future battles.  
It became, quite literally, The Format-War Where Nobody Came.

For the average folk trying to get a grip on what's happened, we need to start with the basic question:  What was Ultraviolet?
And when, in studios' minds, did Supply take complete priority over Demand?:  Why did studios take such a personally invested concern that the technology must exist at ALL for the audience's own good--and must be THE Future of home theater, nothing less--regardless of the audience's lack of sales or interest in it?
For that, we have to go back to the beginning.  Heck, even further than the beginning.  We have to go back to YouTube.

As streaming video found its niche in the mid-00's, studios, wanting a piece of Where Those Internet Kids Were Going, thought they could sell their movies in that marketplace, before those same movies might end up there for free.  To this day, you can still buy Universal, Disney and Paramount VOD movies on YouTube, and if you had no idea in the last twelve years that you could, that gives you some idea of how popular the idea of charging folks to watch YouTube took off.  
There was only struggling interest in online movies, since it required a new startup business, but nobody seemed to know precisely where, if not YouTube, customers would watch them--New services like Amazon's and Hulu's tried to sell their movies for the desktop browser and smartphone, and apart from Playstation/X-Box game consoles with their own private movie stores, the only major living-room competition was Apple, reshaping its iTunes video store for its own AppleTV set-top box.  iTunes was not popular with studios because of Apple's insistence on set prices, and studios looked to back, or create, a new competitor that would let them charge whatever price struck their fancies.

But it was Microsoft--who by 2008 had just suffered a humiliating defeat backing Toshiba's HDDVD disk format, but still hoped to ultimately win the war by cornering the market over its competitors in new online hi-def movie coding--that became the sour-grapes PR devil on the industry's shoulder.  And slyly whispered in its ear "So Sony won the Blu-ray battle!...So what?  Let 'em keep it--Disks are so last week!  Everyone's been saying physical retail was already on the way out anyway, and the future's in online movies and mobility!"  And guess who would come to the rescue on those innovations.
It instantly became one of those statements industry analysts heard and repeated from someone else without checking the source.  The long Blu-vs-HD war had wearied a LOT of the industry and consumer base by '08, and to hear a rebellious "Who cares??" knock the two heads together was just too good to be true for a lot of consumers that still didn't want to plunk down $1500 on a new investment, or for companies hesitant to commit themselves to one more difficult-to-sell hardware-tech rollout.

The studios didn't want a repeat of 2006-08 either:  The industry agreed that if a new online market was created, studios would have to agree to back one format from the beginning, leaving the market to be decided only by Who sold Which movies, not How.
With Cloud Storage as the new tech buzzword, studios in 2011 announced their content support for the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem, now brand-named Ultraviolet (changing its tech abbreviation from DECE to UVVU), a "digital locker" that would handle the central storage for customer's libraries of purchased/unlocked digital-movie titles, and merchant apps and services would sell customers the rights to download movies from that cloud-account.  
The immortal slogan promised viewers nothing less than "All Your Movies, Forever"--Meaning only, that if even one viewing service went out of business, your movie was still safe in the central account, and could be accessed from another participating service.  Wooed by the slogan, defenders took it a little too literally, and dreamed of the public throwing all their disks off a cliff in holy sacrifice, so that their movies would forever reside in a heavenly Cloud, safe from physical harm or burdensome storage. 
No one thought to ask what would happen if Ultraviolet itself went out of business.  Back then, it was too big, too safely sheltered from the market, and too unlikely to ever happen.

Preparing for Ultraviolet's big debut in October '11, Warner acquired movie-info social-media site Flixster, and rebranded it as Ultraviolet's new right-arm on day one, a place to watch your movies while you talk about them with friends!  Flixster was unusual in that it was the only UVVU merchant-app with a STUDIO owning the major interest, and in whether digital or disk had the bigger customer outreach.  The studio also pioneered the idea that you could immediately transition your library away from disk and into online, by including free UV/Flixster purchase codes for the title inside new Blu-ray disks.  If anything, Warner knew how to drum up its own business.
Three of the other later companies came from retail chains:  Wal-Mart created Vudu, specifically to promote their "Disk 2 Digital" promotion, where customers could walk into their local Wal-Mart and "upgrade" their disk to digital rights for a small fee without completely re-buying the title.  Target and Best Buy immediately competed for in-store upgrade business, Target creating Target Ticket, but Target Ticket was so badly managed and entered the game too late to take on iTunes and Amazon's device-based share of the market, the service folded in less than two years.  Best Buy acquired Blockbuster's old attempt at an online Netflix competitor, and attached it to their retail chain as CinemaNow, but sold off their interest in 2014, and the service limped along under new owners for another three years.

Like Bitcoin and self-driving cars, the "future of digital movies" continued on in a stalemate for that three to four years, with more evangelism from the faithful about what was going to happen than actual sales or market share.  But, like any other overenthusiastic Bubble of Dreams, sooner or later, something has to pull the bottom out of the house of cards:
Warner had since sold its market share to ticket-website Fandango, who had already bought up struggling early failure MGo to turn into their own "Fandango Now!" UVVU service.  If Warner had hoped that merging Flixster and Fandango would create an even bigger player, they got a shock on August 28, 2017, when Fandango kept their own service and folded Flixster.   The ripples were already being felt--CinemaNow's owners dropped the UVVU movies that same month, switched to a TV service and started putting their affairs in order.  With almost no one left to sell to, Fox announced in November ' 17 they were dropping Ultraviolet from future digital rights, and Universal followed in January '18.
As those who've seen past format-wars will tell you, companies can change hands or marketing, but when studios remove their support for future movie content, the game is over.  Studios do not like blame, and are very quick to kill the scapegoat, by their own hands if possible.

Disney, meanwhile, in March '18, took their name off their isolated Disney Movies Anywhere service and rebranded the new "Movies Anywhere", by linking themselves with successful survivor Vudu and the three other stubborn non-Ultraviolet holdouts:  Amazon, iTunes and GooglePlay, three device-exclusive services that originally preferred to sell to their own captive customers without any help, thank you...And even Fandango Now.  DMA already had experience linking movie accounts with their disks, offered customers easier use, and now that it has to back a new horse in the race, the industry is making a great show of moving their love to the New Kid in Town.  
But unlike Warner, Disney does not have the same terror of the physical retail market, and in fact, probably the opposite:  They know very well that they have just as much a sales foothold in physical DVD and Blu-ray, and prefer having All of their sales rather than Part of it--The studio is pitching MA as a convenience option, and maybe even an option to get their money faster than mass-retail, but no longer THE option that moviegoers must now embrace or fall behind.  
Even Warner, that once leading-question surveyed its customers "What do you like best about digital?", in February began preliminarily surveying its customers the more nervous question of "What do you like best about Movies Anywhere?"  General, hand over your sword.

Next week, Pt. 2:  So...what went wrong?

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Lion, For Adoption, Needs Good Home (or, How to Stream the Exact Same Movie in Six Different Places)

Say, did I ever tell you about my cool psychic powers?  No, really, they're awesome, I'll prove it!
Go look up your favorite independent streaming service, like Amazon Prime.  Or HuluPlus.  Or PlutoTV.  Or free Vudu Movies on Us.  Now without looking at the catalog, I'll guess which major-studio movies are on it this month:

...Aha! I'm guessing that Prime or Hulu is currently showing the complete collection of 007 movies!  
And no, no wait--I'm seeing....kids cartoons!  Your service has All Dogs Go To Heaven 2, and the Care Bears Movie, and Secret of NIMH 2: Timmy to the Rescue!
And...I'm getting a color....pink!  Does a Pink Panther have any significance?:  A Trail?  A Curse?  A lost Son, perhaps?  And a number is coming in clear now..."1984"!--Was that a significant date, like a birthdate?  Was it your big brother?  I see you going on a long journey, with a friend, and...driving off a cliff?--Oops, sorry, that's "Thelma & Louise".  And...no, so much pain...oh, wait, that's just "Troll 2".

Okay, you got me:  It was a trick.  Whatever service you picked, they were probably all playing there.
And I'll make another guess--Right now your most immediate question is not why someone would guess them, but why four or five or six major streaming services would all happen to be showing the EXACT SAME MOVIES at the EXACT SAME TIME!
But that's not really the question to ask.  The important questions to ask are A) why those exact same movies all happen to come from the same studio, and B) why four or five or six major streaming services don't quite seem to be showing movies on a regular basis from any other studio.

If you're one of the Kids Today who grew up with streaming, it's something you probably don't notice at first. (Unless you happen to have Amazon Prime, and then, you'll happen to notice it.)
But for us old vets of three Format Wars growing up, it's a pretty common sight of the postwar reconstruction and one we've gotten used to by now--Create any new home-theater business, and the first rushers-in through the door, who don't really understand the format before trying to cash in on it, will believe that any movie is a "classic" if they can get their hands on it and sell it.  In a word, Public Domain.  It's the stuff you can sell a hundred times, and never have to pay anyone back for, because ownership troubles due to age or copyright loopholes let you use it for free. 

When studios were slow to jump onto DVD in the late 90's, but eager bottom-feeders were quick, we struggling DVD adopters could look at a box of "50 Greatest Movie Classics On three-disk set!" at Suncoast or Wal-mart, and pretty much rattle off the public-domain titles ahead of time from rote memory.  
Can I still do it?--Let's see:  (takes deep breath) A Little Princess Royal Wedding D.O.A. Charade Suddenly It's a Wonderful Life Beyond Tomorrow When the Clouds Roll By Night of the Living Dead This is the Army Carnival of Souls House On Haunted Hill Little Shop of Horrors Africa Screams Jack & the Beanstalk My Man Godfrey His Girl Friday The Lady Vanishes The 39 Steps Meet John Doe Nothing Sacred Cyrano Algiers Stage Door Canteen(exhale) Whoosh...Gimme a second.  The list's gotten longer in those last twenty years.
We learned these from sheer repetition whether we wanted to or not.  EVERY company thought they were the first to sell them, and didn't particularly care whether they weren't the only ones.  As you can expect from the title, they weren't big on restoration-for-disk either, and if you got a silent movie (which was often, especially if they put "Wizard of Oz" on the cover and hoped you wouldn't notice it was in B/W and Judy Garland wasn't in it), you were lucky if you got an organ score that fit it, or at all.  Oh, and colorized of course--Any old B/W movie is always New-to-You if it's been colorized.

Later on in 2009-10, when rumors of vapor-ware said that Netflix and Amazon were planning to invent this new Internet gizmo where you could watch movies on your cellphone or computer--just like YouTube, only with real movies!--other entrepreneurs tried to race to the start too.  Hulu, which wasn't Plus yet, rushed in its new desktop service, on a shoestring startup budget.  Betcha can't guess what most of the available new movie titles were.

Of course, once the industry got going, we started to get movies from real studios--Like MGM/UA for instance.
MGM's catalogue happens to have a lot of diverse miscellanea in it:  For one thing, they became MGM/UA when they merged with United Artists, an independent release company you might remember for vintage James Bond, the Inspector Clouseau series, most of Woody Allen's 80's post-Funny classics and Heaven's Gate.  Orion Pictures came and went during the 80's, bringing us Robocop, Silence of the Lambs, Bill & Ted and Dances With Wolves, before becoming a distribution label that bought up many of the defunct little release companies, like the American International B-movies, Samuel Goldwyn's arthouse classics, and the 80's catalog of Golan & Globus's Cannon Pictures. 
That's a lot of watchable library for one holding company to own.  Be a shame if anything happened to it.

And for MGM, UA and Orion, just about anything did.  Long story short:  Sold off in the 70's, their classic 30's-60's library bought up by Ted Turner and Warner, and the new production division changing a variety of hands throughout the early 80's, to be revived as brand new labels in the 90's.  A string of disappointments in the 00's, however, and MGM finally folded in 2010, taking "Hot Tub Time Machine" on the way out with them.

That put a lot of catalog titles out of the market and up for grabs, and it's not only in the subscription streaming market that we've been seeing a lot of the hopeful grab for them:
- Digital channel ThisTV was an early-10's digital-broadcast splinter-channel that tried to revive the idea of a commercially-supported all-movie TV channel...If you didn't mind that just about every feature movie came from MGM, UA and Orion's indie-acquisition catalog.
- New "Independent label" Blu-ray disk companies like Twilight Time have been picking up the studio slack and releasing vintage catalog on physical-disk that studios had lost interest in--I was glad to finally get my hands on TT's Blu copies of "The Bounty", "Rollerball" and Woody Allen's "Love and Death", until I saw those same movies turn up on the usual streaming suspects, remembered which studios they had come from, and realized..."D'ohh!"
Ad-supported streamer PlutoTV, trying to spin a hipster parody on Ted Turner's old holiday marathons of "A Christmas Story", last year offered its viewers the "All-day Thanksgiving 24-hour Robocop marathon".  Clever, yes, but why "Robocop"?...Take a wild guess and tell me.

There's some minor relief on the horizon, that Paramount seems to have fallen on the dustbin too:  Paramount, losing interest in releasing their 80's catalog for disk, sold the rights to Warner back in the late 00's, and no prize for guessing what Warner did with them...Which explains the sudden recent appearance of "Clue", "Clueless", "School of Rock" and "A Clear and Present Danger" among the orphanage of Usual MGM Suspects.  
It may not be a solution, but you have to appreciate the problem that if studios won't release their iron grip on their own content--content they still dream we audiences will come to their private websites and pay for, rather than own on respectable formats or enjoy in the mass media--our only hope to enjoy a new resurgence of restored bigscreen 20th-cty. mainstream-studio movies is to hope they'll all be neglected and abandoned into some wider market where people actually have access to them again, from services that don't particularly care how they show them.  Rather like the abuse they used to suffer from local TV stations, that just wanted to show them with commercials.
Obviously, that's not THE prime solution to the problem that film buffs hope will come out of this.  We're hoping for a few better options than that.

While it took the first few years for a new audience to discover the Wide, Wide World of Streaming, and make a show of spurning our expensive cable companies, it's a hard fact, but one new streaming audiences may have to come to grips with:  By the time we took the leap of falling in love with it, the movie sources had dried up, and the party was over by the time we walked in the door.  We only think we're watching the movies we want to see, when we're in fact watching the only familiar movies we can FIND.
And while it's nice to turn on a free or ad-supported streaming service on a channel-clicking evening and see them playing "Fiddler on the Roof" or "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" for being a late-60's/early-70's United Artists film, or to see "Teen Wolf", "The French Lieutenant's Woman" or Cannon Pictures' "Runaway Train" show up for being 80's MGM films, when they're the only major-studio films that start showing up every month, one might have reason to harbor suspicions that Something's Up.  

It's not so much fun enjoying them when you stop to realize that we're only getting streaming cinematic entertainment in our homes as a result of six or seven starving raccoons all diving the exact same dumpster for free goodies.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Will You Accept This Flower From the Holy Cult of FilmStruck? (or, Fury Hath No Vengeance Like a Netflix Cable-Cutter Betrayed)

And just when--like Jason Robards at the end of "A Thousand Clowns"--I'd thought I'd finally run out of things to say.

Okay, it'd been a while, and I'd been thinking of retiring from the blog--Not because an Activist ever gives up the fight (although finally losing the fight for 3DTV was a heavy blow, and I'm not being ironic about that), or because movies were getting better (although seeing "The Mummy"'s failed franchise now firmly established in industry culture as a national punchline gives us hope), or even because of laziness...Oh, like you never fell behind on a blog!  But simply because I'd thought I'd run out of Universal Truths to shout from the wilderness on street corners.  Reducing the many problems in our current movie and home-theater scape to simple explanations, how many times can you say "It's Warner's fault!", "Still trust China?", or "How desperate can Sony BE?" and not sound like a record player with its crank broken?
The good news is, things have started to change.  Even if, occasionally, during the transitions, they start changing into bad things...Or at least very, very frustrating things, that make you risk head injury with the sheer force of your facepalm, or from banging it against walls.

The good news first:  The once "No end in sight" Disk-vs-Digital War is starting to have an end in sight...And it don't look good for Digital.  Apart from the near-collapse and re-patching of the Digital-locker sales industry last summer (which is too good a story and will have to merit another column), Streaming is starting to take its lumps, too.  A boom-market that once promised every studio and every content owner could build its own private vanity streaming network, and have the world beat a path to its door, is starting to discover that it takes a lot of money to keep a bad idea going, that you only own so much content and the content you don't own is harder to license when everyone else is hopefully holding onto theirs, and that it takes even more money to create "Original programming" to try and be the Next Netflix.  Oh, and that not as many people want to pay for it as you think they will, because they only want one or two, and one of those probably IS Netflix.
Even more refreshing news is that a majority of customers, still clinging onto the 2010 idea that Netflix was a magic Wonka-factory of digitized entertainment that would bring all movies to their door, has started just awakening to the idea that that service isn't doing so hot at the moment either.  Mainstream Hollywood movies have all but vanished from the site, the service is now getting by on its "New TV network" cult of original binge-series fans, new "Exclusive movies!" from Will Smith, Adam Sandler and JJ Abrams are still perceived as "busted!" theatrical failures that got pink-slipped by the major studios in mid-production, and the updates of titles have now been permanently weed-strangled by indies, documentaries, Bollywood, and foreign TV-series imports.  The Big Red Hollywood-feed has now become a charity-bin of streaming, for poor homeless, unwanted movies that have nowhere else to go.

Now, I don't like to be the kind of person who says "I told you so"...Okay, just kidding, I LIVE for it.  But I seem to recall bringing up the point a little while ago.
Back in a column from October '16, I first brought up the warning that Netflix's offerings seemed to have fallen a bit from where they used to be, and the movies just weren't coming in anymore:  Studios, searching for a reason why digital-download sales weren't catching fire, thought that nasty one-price subscription services were stealing their business, and Big N, along with Emmy-winning Amazon Prime, were the new super-trendy rivals whose names they heard in the tech press most often.  The majors stopped licensing their big movie catalogues to Netflix, Hulu and Amazon, and as the drought set in, all three animals gathered at the same watering hole of indies and public domain.  (One PD source in particular, but that's another column.)
It occurred to me to ask the fatal question:  "Netflix fans are still in love with the service to show mean old cable companies that they cut the cord...But when they have to bring themselves to cutting the Netflix cord, where will they go and who will they trust?"

Which brings us to the bad news...Okay, the frustrating news.  It's technically part of the good news, but it's still a bit frustrating at the moment.  Because it shows just how hard it is to get the basic gist of the message out, once people get caught up in working out their gut grievances:
As content owners now see more money in merging their services from minor vanity ones into major player leagues, last March, Warner pulled back from its promise to make the new FilmStruck service a collaboration of Turner Classic Movies and Criterion, folded its Warner Instant Archive service, and instead merged the obscure and classic Hollywood titles from their streaming Instant Archive catalog in with the arthouse classics of Criterion--Now making FilmStruck a service where you could watch Kurosawa and Bergman AND "Meet Me in St. Louis" and "Rebel Without a Cause".  Gotta admit, that was a pretty sweet deal:  The only two streaming services left worth watching, in one place...Why go anywhere else?  It represented the positive future of the streaming industry:  Titans who owned their own content, and could never be starved out by the big boys because they were the big boys, should join together, instead of scrabbling for little pieces of territory.  The problem, as is starting to become apparent, is that it turned out to be TOO good a deal.

Now, as the Frugal Gourmet used to say, please don't write in--I like FilmStruck.  I even said so, back in November '16, when the service first premiered, that having a source for actual movies would be a new source for people to start that home correspondence film-study course.  I'd like it a lot better if it had working streaming apps for my Roku or Playstation, and I could watch the classics in my living room instead of on my iPad, but it's a start.
But what happens when a lot of less discerning and more unexpectedly stranded Netflix refugees suddenly stumbled upon the combined Elephant's Graveyard and King Solomon's Mines, where all the classic movies went to when they disappeared so mysteriously over the last six years?  They get a little overexcited.
I'll let a flood of adoring posts to Filmstruck's Twitter channel to do the talking--If anyone feels their privacy violated, tell me, and I'll replace it with another quoted Tweet, there's PLENTY to choose from:

Now, as an experienced film buff, there are some words to describe this sudden mass reaction--"Yeeesh!" is the first one that springs to mind.  It's nice to see people Tweeting about their favorite film-class movie--Even if it seems eerily like a de-evolutionary throwback to the dark 70's days when only a small cult of urban intelligencia at revival theaters talked about great movies while the common people were stuck with TV.  But when each and every Tweet personalizes the adoration with "Thank you, FilmStruck!" it brings up the question of how many people had seen these movies before the Nice People brought it to them.  Remember when you were that innocent freshman girl with that first dreamy crush on that free-thinking college professor who first taught you so much about how to see the world?  (Well, I don't, obviously, but...)
Another is "D'ohh!!", for those on the Disk vs. Digital battlefront, who hoped that the Starvation of Streaming would finally drive people to more and more desperate means to find their movies, and spark them to realize if they weren't on streaming, maybe they should give into that new wave of 90's nostalgia for the long-gone corner Blockbuster Video, and go out and find a movie on physical disk again?--Nope, they just stopped online-bingeing Netflix, and went off to online-binge their next new craze.  As Maria says, "How else?" indeed?  Something that, scoff, wasn't on the Internet?

But rather than shake our heads at adoring sycophancy, we should be a little more scared where it's coming from:  People aren't thanking FilmStruck for giving them their movies back...They're thanking FilmStruck for "teaching" them.  They're thanking them for personally making them the better, smarter, more culturally-enriched people they weren't before they started streaming.  
It's one thing for a once Netflix-obsessed fandom to make a great show of tossing over their previous love, shouting "Give us Barabbas!", and making an even bigger show of their new love that solved the problems of the old ones.  It's another thing when audiences stop thinking of the service as entertainment, and start thinking of it as a life-hack.
It's the same saying about religion, that any church will help you find answers in your life, until you start believing that the one church you found, and the wise folks behind it, will provide you with all the answers you were searching for, because you were too lost and unworthy to find them yourself...Because that's when it officially becomes a Cult.  And historically, bad things have happened when Cults show up.

In fact, it's a good thing nobody likely is reading this blog anyway.  If it were, I'd be drowned within minutes by a flood of Butthurt, from folks who believed I was not only speaking bad things against FilmStruck, but that I was implying they were bad people personally for embracing the new awakening it provided their lives with.  If I tried to point out that every single Criterion movie, and many of the Warner Instant Archive titles, were already available on Blu-ray and DVD disk, were for sale at cut prices on Amazon to own forever, probably were already on the shelf at your local public-library system for a free one-week rental, and had been since long before the service even existed, I'd be deluged with posts shouting "You're just a digital hater!  What's the matter, grandpa, still love 'dying' disks, and can't handle the new riches that streaming has brought us?  Go back to your network TV and those cable pirates, we'll watch the good stuff!"  After all, the rule of a cult is, you can speak against the church, but how dare you speak against the beneficent ideals of its founder?  Remember when Ringo Starr was chased all over London by that crazed "Kailiii!" cult trying to kill him in the Beatles' "Help"?--He had it easy.
But that's not it at all, y'see...I'm all for the idea.  I like the merger of two big studios into a big-label player instead of two little greedy delusional ones, and I look forward to--WHERE THE HELL IS THAT PS4 APP, FS, IT'S BEEN TWO FREAKIN' YEARS!!--er, ahem, I mean, I look forward to having more of it available to stream, now that many of Warner's key vintage catalogues, like Fred & Ginger and Val Lewton, now have a home with the Archive half of the collection.

But I know that because I've been pursuing my love of old movies for years.  I knew where to find it by looking for it.  I didn't wait for someone to be saintly enough to bring it to me, I just gave it a grateful nod of good sense that someone got over the whole industry foolishness and found a way to.
Are you, like H. Perry Horton, Maria and Miguel, tearing up in grateful awe that someone brought classic movies to your living room?  At the risk of sounding like Captain Planet, the power to search out classic movies was in YOU.  It was all around you, in those shiny silver things an entire industry tried to tell you didn't matter anymore, because there were so many new things your remote could find.  They never left you all these years, even when you left them, and then your new love left you.  They were still there, because that's the one function they were built to do.
And at the even greater risk of sounding like Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, you had the power to find those lost movies all along.  All you had to do was click your heels three times, get off your seat and onto said heels, and say "There's no place like Blu-ray...There's no place like Physical...There's no place like the Library..."  And then if you ever go looking for your heart's movie classic again, you'll never have to look further than your own backyard.  Because if it wasn't there, you probably never lost it to begin with.  (Or, well, something like that.)

I'm not accusing anyone of deliberately fostering a cult-of-personality with brainwashing, salutes, armbands or red baseball caps, I'm just pointing out the dangers of what happens when they find themselves stuck with one anyway, whether they like one or not.  Intentional cults are evil, yes, but UN-intententional cults are ten times more scary, because nobody can claim they're doing anything wrong.
It's an important thing to tell someone lost that they had the power and the individuality to find their own answers all along, if they just dared themselves to go and look for them.   Because it's one of the first things deprogrammers used to tell confused kids who were in danger of the more familiar kinds of cults that claimed they had all the answers in one easy place.  And which promised to make them new people if they would just turn and reject all those things in their old lives they were so confused and angry about.