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Emerging Media: Remonetizing Content: How Many Times?

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If you’ve worked in the world of video entertainment, or even if you’re just a savvy film fanatic, you’re familiar with the concept of "windows." Not the operating system, but the carefully planned sequence of content from theaters to DVD, pay-per-view, premium movie channels, cable, and, eventually, network TV.

Back in the day, there were just movies and TV. You could watch a movie in the theater, and then if you waited a year, it would show up "edited for TV." And what did the studios get? Well, at that era’s CPM, probably you paid (through advertisers) a few cents more to see the show on TV.

With the advent of VCRs and later DVDs, some brands were able to learn the trick of remonetizing content more effectively. Kids’ content provided particularly fertile ground—the parents would trot their youngsters off to see re-released Disney movies, then buy the movie and play it over and over until their VCR was gasping for life.

Let’s tally it up for the modern case:

—First you watch the movie in the theater: $10+
—You rent it or VOD it: up to $4
—You decide to buy it on DVD: $15 dollars
—Hopefully it gets released in a "special edition" with a tin shell, some gimmicks, and a comic book: $25
—Eventually, you’ll wander by it while channel-surfing, and pay a few dimes for it by watching commercials

The challenge to even this slowly evolving system is that darned internet. These days, the internet is wearing a silly costume that says "Web 2.0" and running around yelling platitudes about user-generated content. Yet, despite these idiosyncrasies, staid businesspeople are listening to the story and trying to figure out how to remonetize content there as well.

Apple’s iTunes has put a bunch of Disney video up for sale. It doesn’t have a rental model like CinemaNow or Movielink, but many assume that Apple will find the magic monetization formula, just as with its music store.

But the video you download from any of these services is lower than DVD-quality. Not to mention the various problems with movies vs. audio: Audio is listenable everywhere and repeatedly, in contrast to film.

Though I don’t claim to know the answer, my intuition is that I would use the internet as a rental source, not as a purchase source—unless the quality was the highest available (DVD or HD) or the content was exclusive. I would gladly, however, pay a few dollars to rent anything available, assuming the experience was in the comfortable iTunes womb and showed up on my TV. I just don’t want to litter my hard drive with mid-resolution versions of movies I’m not going to watch again for a couple of years.

My own enthusiasm for new technology has already stung me in the audio realm. I have recently started suffering from "downloader’s remorse," the feeling that I should have bought the hard copy of a digital asset. I found a new band I liked and, after getting a couple of their early CDs, I bought their whole catalog from iTunes. Now I wish I had a stack of CDs just like I have for the other artists whose collections I’ve completed. Thus, when I recently saw a re-release of a CD I had to have in the iTunes store—bundled with downloadable video tracks—I instead went over to Amazon and began to order the hard version with the bundled DVD. Then I changed my mind again—and went to my local CD store and bought it. I just didn’t want a low-res incomplete clip when I could just buy the media and rip it myself if I have to have it on my iPod (and consider this a legitimate "personal-use" case of copying).

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