Monday, May 08, 2006

Of Distribution Methods and Kings

Pity the synchronous entertainment industry: movies, television, newspapers, radio. No, really.

Take movies (please): it's getting harder and harder to make a consistent profit by hitting the targets that used to draw audiences into theaters. Mission: Impossible III is doing fairly lackluster business (though the sheer manic insanity of Tom Cruise might have affected its receipts a smidgen), there are braindead sequels of sequels getting made right and left, there's an increasingly barefaced preachiness and liberal bent to movies and to actors these days, guaranteeing alienation of a certain portion of films' potential audiences, and on top of that home theater equipment has moved into the mainstream (62.3 million hits on Google as of this writing).

I realized this afternoon that I haven't darkened the door of a movie theater since sometime in December, 2005 (Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe). There simply hasn't been a cinematic offering since then that's been suitably compelling. I have, however, bought about a dozen DVDs (though none for a non-Pixar movie made in the past five years), subscribed to Netflix and watched hundreds of hours of TiVo- and/or Windows Media Center Edition-recorded TV in that time.

Then there's advertising-driven TV. Between (again) DVRs (TiVo, Windows Media Center Edition, etc.), Netflix (again) and the ability to download pretty much any TV show, movie, interesting video clip or photo from the internet, ads just aren't getting watched the way they used to be. There are more product placement deals being made, more technological hurdles being placed in front of TiVo and its cohorts by the more litigious TV content producers, but the technological trend is clear here.

Newspapers? Oy. I know I haven't subscribed to one of the dirty, bulky, fire hazards since the early 1990s. Internet, internet, internet, mobile internet, mobile internet, internet funnies! It's embarrassing how poorly physical newspapers serve my needs.

Radio: there are some bright points here (conservative talk radio, subscription satellite radio), but I know I find commercials amid my songs pretty well unbearable after nearly a year with XM. I download close to a half-dozen podcasts on a quasiweekly basis (only one of which is a recording of a radio show), and pretty much every talk radio show that values its audience publishes a podcast now. Again, asynchronous media is winning, and winning big.

Needing to show up or tune in at a specific time for media is so 1998.

Part of this is probably just me, and the fact that I have a beautiful woman to occupy my attention and my time, and that she and I are internet, DVD and timeshifting fools. But demographically I have to imagine that I'm not such an outlier. The coveted 18-to-35 male audience segment (which I exited only yesterday) is watching less synchronously-aired, mass-produced entertainment and occupying its time with more technologically tricksy stuff like TiVo-d media, iPods (containing everything from simple music to podcasts to video), videogames, and plain old websurfing.

Case in point: this past week I acquired a truly remarkable device: a Cingular 8125 Pocket PC, which is actually more of a smartphone than a full Pocket PC. I used to use a Palm Treo 650, and it did a decent job as a phone, camera, organizer and e-mail device, but a poor one as a web-surfing platform. Well, how bad can that be, you ask? It's a stinkin' phone! True, but now that I have a unit that excels at being a phone, a camera, an organizer and a web-surfing platform (I know, I scarcely believe it myself) I will never, ever, ever go back. Shoot, for the fun of it I streamed a Harry Potter trailer over the thing's cellular modem, and while it was hardly HDTV, it was impressive nonetheless. And it'll look positively Jurassic in a year.

Give me a flatscreen monitor and broadband connection for comfort, but the ability to get the latest news via RSS and WAP from a Panera Bread over coffee and croissants without even needing to lug a laptop around is where it's at, baby.


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