Who killed my DVD?

by vpundir | December 28th, 2005

DVRs like TiVo sent shock-waves down the spine of marketing managers and advertising agencies everywhere. After all, they provide time-shift television and weed out the ads, making it difficult to reach the consumers. I foresee in the near future a time where ad-neutralizing devices would be commonplace, and would cover all media including TV, theater, music, movies, print, radio and web. Does that mean the death of advertising? Hell, no! Apart from creative product placements, I foresee an era of on-demand advertisements…essentially an era of pull-advertising rather than push-advertising. This isn’t very different from The Yellow Pages or a web-search.

However, that’s not what inspired me to write this piece today. DVRs have also unsettled the media and entertainment industry in general, and not just for the fear of loss of advertising revenues. Film-studios, for instance, worry about losing out on DVD sales. The reason broadcast of movies on cable doesn’t kill DVD distribution is time-inconvenience, push-ads and etheral character. DVDs are on-demand, ad-free and ownable. Though on-demand channels overcome the first two barriers, they trip on the third. As of now, human psychology allocates a premium on physical ownership. And that’s not about to change in a hurry. That’s one of the reasons that the Network PC and Applications-on-Demand/Application-rentals fell flat on their face.

DVRs change the scenario. They deal with all the three issues satisfactorily. So will the DVR kill the DVD? The current statistics make that question appear ridiculous. And considering the number of DVDs I own, I want to stay in denial, and laugh the issue off.

However, this is no laughing matter. VHS killed Beta in spite of having a poorer picture quality merely because of the longer play length. VCD eliminated the need to rewind and provided longer product life; that was the end of VHS. DVD murdered VCD with the better quality, single-disc and bonus features cards. So is DVR the next king of content?

I’ll give a rather diplomatic answer. It depends. Current DVRs use Winchester-discs/hard-disks to store programming. I believe that is on its way out. I see the minimization of moving parts. I see the end of fragile discs like DVDs or hard discs. I see the onslaught of solid-state media. This onslaught has already started. My roommate has a 4GB Flash-drive (a.k.a. jump drive, thumb drive, pen drive, memory stick, and USB drive), the size of a matchbox. I have a 1GB SDRAM card 1/8 the size. Presently the economies are not good enough to make these the preferred software distribution media. Within 3 years, however, movies will be distributed on solid state memories. And THAT will kill the DVD.

For all their strengths, DVR can not achieve the coup-de-grâce for two reasons:
1. Portability. There are times when you want to carry around your movies. DVRs are no good in that area.
2. Scalability. DVRs have a fixed memory size. As a computer user, you’d appreciate that however large a hard disc you buy, it starts feeling small within a half and one year. As your collection grows, you will hate being constrained.
3. Searchability. For another generation at least, people will prefer going through colorful physical stacks of movies to searching on a tiny screen using a cramped keypad of a DVR.

To be fair, DVRs will evolve on their part. They will become smaller and lighter. They will facilitate better search, typically through connection with a computer or with a plug-in full-size keyboard. And they will start accepting solid-state memory. But that will just make them DVD-player replacement, not a DVD-media replacement.

In conclusion, watch out all you DVD collectors. Your collection is about to be rendered obsolete and useless.

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