Monday, August 1, 2016

Y-your Movies AREN'T Here, They're In Mr. Warner's House!

When I discovered in last week's post (well, I didn't find out, that was a few years earlier, I just pointed it out a week ago) that I shared a common childhood upbringing with George Bailey of the Bailey Savings & Loan, a sudden flood of TV-indoctrinated Jimmy Stewart dialogue inspired me to try and illustrate one of the key points on the Movie Activists' key battlefront.  It's frightening how many people still don't grasp it, are blinded by the shiny promises of advertising copy, or pretend it's not really as frightening as it is.

For those who haven't seen the film (okay, just go with me on that one), the scene in 1946's "It's a Wonderful Life" has Stewart's character, who gave up his boyhood dreams to run the town's traditional bank, trying to establish reason as Depression-era crises put the bank in jeopardy, and start a run of customers demanding their cash back.  (A bit of sermonizing Frank Capra not-so-subtly wanted to slip into the script as '46 America was already facing postwar economics.)  A crisis the town's rich-nasty Ol' Man Potter, of course, plans to exploit for his own business domination.

Even during the 00's economic Meltdown, when Americans were trying to re-educate themselves about basic financial issues, news hosts often found how many people still didn't grasp the basic concepts that most of us should have learned the year we got our first independent summer jobs mowing lawns and drawing cappucinos as teenagers:

Let's say you put a thousand dollars in the bank.  (Again, just go with me on this one, if you have to.)  
At no point will any specific part of your money actually be IN that bank:  If you sign your name on a $5 bill hoping to find it again, it will probably be handed off as change to a total stranger by the next teller transaction five minutes later.
Apart from safe-deposit boxes used for private storage by customers, only a fraction of the bank's assets are ever physically in the bank vault for use at any given time.  The rest is used for the bank's investments, housing loans, local business loans, other customer transactions, and all other business by which a bank generates its interest and income.  
Unlike Scrooge McDuck's money vault, cash assets are not intended to sit in one place and grow moldy, since, as Mr. McDuck told Huey, Dewie and Louie, your money has to circulate, circulate.  

When you deposit a thousand into the bank, what you are actually doing is signing a contractual agreement with the bank that you are allowing them to use your money as they see fit at all times, without your permission--In return for which, including some interest into the bargain, they will recognize $1000 of their assets as reserved for you to use for whatever checks, debit-cards or ATM withdrawals you may need to.  And, of course, you may need to pay them a monthly fee for that privilege, unless they offer you a waiver by following certain obligations to their advantage you also have to voluntarily agree to--Such as keeping a minimum amount of your money in the bank or making a mandatory minimum of business transactions with them, like online bill-pay or direct-deposit.
If you think the money's "yours", try walking past the guards into the vault, picking up the cash, and taking it back with you.  They may object.

That's one thing you can't do.  Here's what the banks can't do (at least with active accounts):
They are never allowed to simply say, at any point convenient for their own business, "Our branch had to downsize the number of accounts we held, so your account was one of the ones our computer deleted, and we just absorbed your money into our assets.  Sorry if that leaves you without a cent, but nothing personal, we just had to make cutbacks."
No matter what happens, you are guaranteed by law to get your money back--Even after the Depression days of the Bailey S&L, FDIC now government-insures every customer will be reimbursed for his savings/checking accounts if the bank goes out of business.  And you don't even have to go across the street to Mr. Potter's.

Studios and digital-movie providers are not banks.  There is no rule that oversees them.  As private entrepreneurs in a new field, they are allowed to make up the rules and be laws unto themselves.
When you give up the right to own a movie on disk by buying a digital title on Amazon or Ultraviolet's cloud library instead, you are sacrificing your right to all personal ownership of that movie, and are contractually buying a right to watch it on the provider's library, for as long as it's available.  And no guarantee is ever offered that it will be.  Trust them.
As part of the new "Digital locker" system of movie availability, Ultraviolet assures us that with all your movies overseen by one central company, you will have, quote, "enduring right" to see those movies on any streaming company linked to UV, even if failed UV-linked distributor services like Target Ticket and MGo eventually go out of business.  
It just keeps slipping their mind to answer the one other obvious question that springs up:  What happens when Ultraviolet goes out of business?  
(The usual answer by most of the press-reps and defenders is, well, that won't happen, because their successful profits went up last year!  Oh, good.  Load off my mind.)

Many studios are now interested in the Digital-locker industry, because it allows them tighter control on their movies.  In the old days, when a customer bought a movie on Blu-ray, that disk was now on his shelf for its indestructible life like a book, and there was nothing the studio could do or say in the matter...They couldn't obtain a search warrant to bust down his door and get it back, after all.
With the new tighter in-house control of digital movies, studios can update the movie's availability for the locker:  When a rare title falls out of print with expired license issues for the studio, it can simply be removed from the catalogue, as if it was never there.  Nothing for Legal to worry about. 
Availability can even be controlled for promotional purposes:  When Fox realized that 2015's "Fantastic 4" would have a troubled box-office opening and objections from fans, they helped remove competition for the opening by temporarily removing 2005-7's earlier (and marginally better, although not by much) Fantastic Four movies from their catalogue for those first troubled two box-office weeks.  That's one advantage to having a monopoly, that one gets to control reality in whatever ways one wants.  

Warner, the former owner of Flixster (now only a 30% share with the majority being sold to Fandango, under Comcast/Universal), has been a very eager promoter of UV's system, and frequently promotes the ease of pre-ordering movies while still in theaters, to give them an early idea of how many physical disks not to manufacture and sell at their own loss.
Walmart owns the Vudu streaming distributor, and even offers the Disk-to-Digital service in their stores to allow customers to convert their disks to streaming for a nominal fee, if the digital format is available...Why pay for your own disk a second time in digital format?  Because it offers more convenience.
Both services have found a unique slogan to repeat in their press copy for cloud digital-locker streaming:  "All Your Movies, Forever".    
And the problem with that slogan is that it's a lie, and not a lie.  It is, in fact, THREE lies.

Wikipedia's listing on UV, for example, notes some selected drawbacks:
- Not all film studios participate in the UV ecosystem
The Walt Disney Company does not provide UV rights with their digital content. Walt Disney recently launched its own competing digital rights locker called Disney Movies Anywhere (powered by keychest) that works with iTunes, Vudu, Amazon Video, and Google Play.
Not all UV enabled films are available to stream from all UV services
Due to contractual agreements between the studios and the streaming services, some titles are only available to stream from select UltraViolet services. Some titles may not be available on your particular service of choice.

Let's recap:  Not all titles may be available for sale or play in your region.  Availability of titles are at the sole license and discretion of the studio.  No refund will be granted if a movie is no longer available for play on the catalogue, or if the central locker management goes out of business.
You won't find them All.  They're not Yours.  And you have no guarantee they'll be there Forever.  (But, um, they are Movies, so guess that's one out of four they got right.)
And the reason it ISN'T three lies is that by dictionary definition, a "lie" is deliberately deceptive.  When the fib-teller genuinely believes it himself--because he doesn't really use the technology himself, isn't up on the basic details, and just repeats what bit of sales copy he's heard from other reports--it's not lying.  It's either wishful thinking, just not knowing what the heck he's talking about, or being just plain crazy.  But at least being dangerously naive isn't illegal.

As a physical-disk fan, I confess I'm more in the economic theory of Scrooge McDuck:  I love gloating over piles of the shiny round silver things I own, and collect rare treasures, but I also know they must circulate, circulate--I loan copies to friends, get them hooked on titles, keep them available in case anyone needs them, and donate any spare unwanted disks to the library, as charity for other folk in need.
But as to the popularity that we should let anyone else own our movies, because Warner and Walmart persuade us that every physical disk we buy is a cluttering millstone in our house and would be more valuable to us thrown away than alive?...Well, d-don't you see, those ol'-man studios aren't selling their digital accounts to us, they're buying us!  And why?  Because we're cutting in on their business, that's why; they want to keep you watching their availability of titles, at the prices they want to charge, while they don't have to pay a cent of their own, and make themselves a bargain--They know our disks own the movies and they don't!  And that's what's got 'em scared!

If those studios get a hold of the movie distribution industry, w-why, there won't be another classic movie ever put on disk again--They've already got everything tied up everywhere else, with their movies locked out of HBO, Netflix, the TV networks, the whole deal!  You, Mr. Martini, you remember having to watch those movies on Amazon's library, with those plain old broadcast-HD prints that weren't any better than you could get on cable, how much did they make you pay for those?  Had to buy them, didn't you, because they didn't feel like they wanted to rent them to you?...And you, Bert, remember having to pay $29 for that Vudu "bonus combo", that stuck on just one or two little extra featurettes that were on the disk anyway, a fat lot of good they cared about what you wanted!
A-and how'd you like that new streaming option that was going to make your movie look "better than in the theaters", because they told you everything was going to be on UHD streaming, but you didn't have the right bandwidth connection for it!...And when you finally got one, watching the darn things shot your overuse bill to where you couldn't afford to do it more than once a month, and then the ISP started cutting back your connection!  Think a disk would've put you through all that?
Now, now, folks, we can get through this all right, but we gotta work together, if we care about this town!  We have to remind ourselves what's really important, we gotta have faith and love for our movies, or darnit, we're just gonna end up losing EVERYTHING!

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going back to my collection:
(goes to shelf, picks up disks of House of Wax 3D, and Disney Treasures: Dr. Syn)
(mwah!)...Oh, you beautiful darlings.

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