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Golden Age of Wireless

August 24, 2011

Today I watched news from Libya via Al Jazeera streamed over Roku on my HDT V; as I write this, I’m chilling out to my favorite stations on Pandora streaming on my PC; and in the other room, my wife is curled up in the bedroom watching “The Tudors” via Netflix on our iPad. In a touch, we’re accessing great content when we want it, where we want it, on the device we want it, and at a very low cost.

Sure, the catalog of on-demand content is somewhat limited but for what is available, you can get it pretty easily and at a reasonable cost.

It all makes me think that this can’t last and when looking back, we’ll realize this is a golden age of sorts for on-demand streamed content.

We see some evidence already that the current system is unsustainable. Pandora’s stock is coming under increased pressure and there are very real concerns about its business model. The studios have finally gotten wise to Netflix and are putting the screws to them. Netflix has no choice but to raise prices and separate out its streaming business from its DVD business (although it is still a pretty good deal).

It feels like we’ve had to too easy, and too cheap, for a while and now prices will go up and accessing content (legally), will get more complicated.

As far as prices, I can’t really complain. I’m as cheap as the next guy but you don’t need to be an economist to realize we’ve probably been getting great content too cheaply. If we want content producers to continue to create stuff we enjoy, we better start paying market price for it. I love the concept of the starving artist, but I guess I have a soft spot in me that doesn’t want them to starve too much. Sure artists should only eat instant ramen, but I’m OK if it is a brand name. So here’s my deal, if you make it easy and reasonable, I’ll pay for it.

This leads me to my next point, access. Here there really is no excuse for content owners, cable companies and the like to make this a pain for the consumer. HBO comes to mind with their insistence you be a cable subscriber to access HBO Go. I mean really? Just tell me what the monthly subscription is to stream the content and let’s get on with it. HBO, I’ll pay you directly and you won’t have to go through this complex ‘I pay you and you pay me’ dance with cablecos. Why do I need to get some excessive cable package that I don’t care about just to get HBO on my iPad? There are other examples, but I’m most bitter about HBO.

I also get the sense that studios/cablecos are pulling stuff from Netflix and are trying to push other VoD platforms. As a capitalist, I appreciate competition but I get the sneaking suspicion that this emerging patchwork system of only certain content available on certain platforms will make it more complicated to access what I want, not easier.

This leads me to my original point. It all seems too easy right now. I’m sure things will eventually get easier and one day we will be able to truly call up an infinite catalogue of content with a swipe of a screen. But between then and now things may get excessively complicated.

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