The Cloud, Day 17: Cloud Entertainment Comes with Strings Attached

30 Days With the Cloud: Day 17

The cloud is emerging as a platform for entertainment beyond just streaming music. The problem right now is that many of the content providers have the model backwards and insist on linking cloud-based viewing with old school cable service subscriptions. For today’s installment of 30 Days With the Cloud, I am taking a closer look at watching movies and TV shows from the cloud.

Disillusioned with Netflix

Once upon a time, Netflix was on a path to be my one-stop-shopping service for streaming video content. I could watch Netflix on my TV in my living room through my Blu-Ray player, or through Apple TV. I could watch Netflix on my iPhone, iPad, Motorola Xoom tablet, or from my laptop while traveling on the road. It is ubiquitous.

While Netflix itself is still present on all of those platforms, and I can still view Netflix content in all of those ways, the success of Netflix triggered content providers--many of which Netflix relies on, or expected to enter into content licensing deals with--to strike out on their own and compete with Netflix instead. There are also competing and overlapping rivals like Amazon Prime and Hulu Plus.

I am still a fan of Netflix in general, but I find the selection of worthwhile movies to be disappointing, and I hate the way Netflix sorts “New Arrivals”. When I view a list of new arrivals, I expect to see current or recent movies and TV shows--not content from 20 or 30 years ago that just happens to be new on Netflix this week. For example, right now my Netflix “New Arrivals” includes “Take Me Home Tonight”, which is a reasonably recent new release, alongside “Edward Scissorhands” from 1990, “Scarface” from 1983, and “Miracle on 34th Street” from 1947.

The Fragmented Market

Content providers seem increasingly reluctant to enter into agreements with companies like Netflix—or at least they are much more selective about which services they partner up with. So, Netflix, Amazon Prime, iTunes, Vudu, Hulu Plus, and others have overlapping content libraries that are also each unique in some small way.

Then, I have HBO, ABC, and others that offer their own content through their own services and apps. The net result is that watching a TV show or movie from the cloud is not nearly as simple as it should be, because first I have to try and figure out which of the various services and apps I use might have the content I am looking for.

The fragmentation of streaming video content has created a market for new services like the Fanhattan app. Fanhattan lets me search for a given movie across a wide variety of services including Netflix, Hulu, Crackle, HBO Go, Amazon Prime, iTunes, Vudu, Blockbuster, Zune, and more.

The content providers need to catch up with the streaming video services and gadgets.
Strings Attached

One of the biggest problems I have with some content providers right now is the stubborn insistence that I use their old-fashioned cable or premium channel service in order to gain access to the streaming cloud equivalent.

Matt Peckham discussed this at length in a recent Technologizer post. HBO offers cloud streaming with HBO Go, but only if I am a subscriber of the traditional HBO pay channel. Verizon is going to deliver FiOS TV channels over Xbox, but only if I am a Verizon FiOS TV and Internet customer in the first place.

These organizations are missing the point. While these are decent value-added benefits for customers who want to use the traditional services, there is a growing segment of the population that wants to eliminate traditional cable TV and pay channel service from their lives and switch to cloud-based alternatives. What if I don’t even own a TV and just want to get content on my laptop or tablet?

Forcing customers to subscribe to the old school service to get the cloud benefit is like Amazon forcing people to purchase the “dead tree” physical printed version of a book in order to win access to the Kindle digital edition.

There is a growing array of streaming entertainment options available. It is a relatively new market and it will probably take some time for the different players to figure out what works and what doesn’t.

Read the Last "30 Days" series: 30 Days With Windows Phone 7

Day 16: Stuck in Upload Hell

Day 18: Riding the Cloud from My iPad

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