How much longer before everything is digital?

by James R. Stoup Feb 06, 2006

An interesting thing happened to me as I was driving to a Super Bowl party Sunday night. [Author’s note: For you non-American readers out there the Super Bowl is the championship game in American Football. Anyway, back to the game. The Super Bowl is noted for two important things. The first is that it is the most watched sporting event in the USA. And the second (which is a byproduct of the first) is that the best, most creative, most unusual TV commercials are generally aired during this time. So, there I was, in the car, driving with my wife, headed to a Super Bowl party. Now we were running a little late (which was my fault) and I began to wonder if the game would start without us. I didn’t really care much about the game itself (since I am a Redskins fan and the game was between the Steelers and the Seahawks) however I really didn’t want to miss any of the commercials.

And that was when it hit me. I knew that if I did miss any funny commercials that I could just watch them online the next day. I didn’t know where but I was confident that a simple google search would bring me up a list of every commercial aired complete with user rankings so I could easily spot the best ones. Isn’t that just great? 10 years ago watching the commercials I missed would have been much more difficult. But things have changed so much since the age of the net dawned. Which brings me up to the main point of this article, how much longer before everything is digital and readily available online?

Right now most of the music your average person would want can be found online somewhere. If it can’t be found on bit torrent, ITMS or Napster then it probably doesn’t exist. You can download music to your computer, iPod or even your cell phone. And even now the digital audio market is still expanding. Podcast, digital radio and even soundtracks from video games have begun to gain popularity. So if you wanted, right this very second, to acquire some piece of audio you have many free (bit torrent, podcasts) or non-free (iTMS, Napster) outlets.

But things don’t look so go when you move on to video, specifically TV shows. You really only have two choices here, buy the media from the ITMS (and suffer through low resolution) or take your chances and download it illegally from something like bit torrent. Thus as a consumer even though you have two choices for instant gratification of your video needs, but neither are all that satisfactory. Here we have a partial breakdown of an ideal free market economy. Clearly there is a demand but for various reasons the industry hasn’t responded completely.

And the situation gets even worse when we move onto movies. Currently there is no legal way to purchase movies online. So if you want to see your favorite thriller or love story or comedy you are forced to turn to bit torrent. And it gets worse when you realize that unlike the TV market (which is slowly moving towards an all digital reality) this market is being dragged at a glacial pace into the 21st century.

Thus I return to my question, how long before you can obtain any media with just a few clicks of the mouse and a credit card number? 5 years? 10? And who will bring it to us? Apple, Microsoft or the studios themselves? My bet is on Apple but there is still so much more left to do.

Here is where I want the market to be in 5 years: I want to be able to buy, download, and instantly enjoy any type of media. For example, if I hear a song on the radio I want to be able to buy it when I get home. If I see a great commercial during the Super Bowl I want to be able to buy it during half time. If the sound track to Halo III is really good, I want it on my laptop right after I beat the game. The day a new movie comes out I want the option of going to the theater or purchasing it online and watching it on my own TV. I want to be able to wake up at 2 a.m., stagger to my computer and buy every episode of Cheers, Star Trek and M.A.S.H. if the mood strikes me. I want to buy the first book in a great trilogy at my local bookstore, and then get so caught up in it that I have to buy the second and third books online so I can find out how the story ends. If I have a ready source of funds and a fast connection I want the option of buying any media I desire, instantly.

Maybe it will take another decade before such a sweeping change occurs. And maybe Apple will lead the way. But ultimately it doesn’t matter who leads us there so long as we get there soon. I am tired of waiting. If you studios are listening try to pay attention! You have a willing customer right here that you are going to lose to piracy if you don’t get your act together soon.


  • I’ll tell you what I want.

    I want when I hear a song in the car to be able to say to my personal onboard computer: “Hey, Computer, buy that song for me and add it to iTunes, will you?” “Would you like me to play it now?” asks the computer. “Yes please,” I say, and there it is. And I want it to be sync’d via the internet, immediately, from my car to my home computer, and the laptop in my bag in the back, which will also respond, optionally, to my poorly pronounced instructions half obscured by the pasty i am eating. And I want the music to be 300 kbps, and I want to own it so I can copy it and back it up and listen to it wherever I want, whenever I want for all eternity.
    But mostly I just want to be able to say “Computer”, and know it was listening. And preferably it would have some (optional) voice-representation wave graph available that would ideally be projected onto my windscreen when I was driving. And it would come with a selection of scifi and normal voices, with more downloadable from the itunes music store.
    Captain Steve. Make it so.

    Benji had this to say on Feb 06, 2006 Posts: 927
  • Oh, yeah, I think five years, by the way.

    Benji had this to say on Feb 06, 2006 Posts: 927
  • My cousin’s S-class Mercedes responds to “CD player, disk 2 track 3” and plays said tune.

    It’s not really as unthinkable as it may initially sound!

    Marc Jones had this to say on Feb 06, 2006 Posts: 14
  • I think Apple is taking things in the right direction with the iTunes Music Store.  It does have some drawbacks, but so far it’s the best out there.  I think the biggest step they can take now is to start offering audio at higher quality.  They seem to be on a roll adding television content, and I think it’s only a matter of time before some Hollywood studios start jumping on board.

    But the biggest problem right now is bandwidth.  I too would love to be able to download essentially the entire DVD of a film (legally) and burn it out, the problem is that right now, for myself and a lot of other people, that would simply take too long.  Most people simply do not have the speeds necessary to make that a viable solution.  The people that do are probably (a) already downloading this type of content somehow, or (b) that connection is only available to them at work or at school where they may not be allowed to download content from iTunes or other legitimate sources (and definitely not the illegitimate ones).

    I think Apple has done a great job with video podcasts, and even though I don’t have a 5th Gen iPod I still download a few of them, but I just can’t see myself watching them on a TV, especially not a decent sized plasma or LCD.  I don’t even like taking them full-screen in my 17” PowerBook.

    But I think the bandwidth issue will be solved over time, and after it is the only other real hurdle for consumers would be storage capacity.  My music collection already takes up a sizeable chunk of disk space, leaving very little room for anything else, least of all a full-res digital copy of a DVD.

    Andrew Harden had this to say on Feb 06, 2006 Posts: 19
  • Isn’t most everything already digital? Steadily increasing demand for easy access will be the driver at this point. Whether it will be a technology company or a media company is anyone’s guess. If a technolgy company can successfuly negotiate redistribution rights with several syndication points that would be a good start towards being king of this particular hill.

    matt maier had this to say on Feb 06, 2006 Posts: 1
  • Ben, nice concept. I would want my tracks in ALAC though.

    Bad Beaver had this to say on Feb 06, 2006 Posts: 371
  • OK, I’m old, but I believe that there are limits to the benefits of some digital content.  Take your basic movie - say the download will be $4 - $5 and it has fair share so you can burn a backup.  How many people will do that?  How many people back up all of the music they have bought on iTunes?  Just in case their HD dies and everything is lost?

    There are two very good non-digital sources for music and movies.  The first is the weekly “sale items” from the discount houses.  Pretty good prices at times - especially when you consider the cost and time burning to a DVD.

    The second source are the resellers.  Tired of a movie or CD you own - take it in and get a credit.  I bought a DVD of the Sound of Music yesterday for $7.99 and it kept my 4 year old granddaughter entertained for hours.  The store does not have the range an internet store would have, but it’s a viable option and there isn’t a issue of audio or video quality.

    Will the digital world surge?  Sure.  There will be a lot of alternatives - and Apple will probably lead - but there will also be a lot of options you can hold in your hand and obtain for a cheaper price.  The issue for people will be to select the best option for a particular item, be it a song or DVD.

    MacKen had this to say on Feb 06, 2006 Posts: 88
  • Contempt?!

    Benji had this to say on Feb 06, 2006 Posts: 927
  • Like others have pointed out, I don’t think we’ll move toward a large downloadable visual industry, like we currently have with music, until our bandwidth speeds have grown considerably.

    The pattern is pretty much that it won’t become widespread until you can stream it without buffering.

    Luke Mildenhall-Ward had this to say on Feb 07, 2006 Posts: 299
  • I’m sure that new content will be available much quicker in digital format than old content. Take books (remember those?)... Despite the vast array of information available online, it’s barely a dent in all the printed material available in the world. Scanning that content, as well as older music, older movies and TV programs… that back catalog of “stuff” will take decades to get online (mostly because there’s little money in it and therefore no incentive for big business to do it.) Also, the older the material, the more work to get it into a digital form (especially if it has to be cleaned up during the digitization process), so the slower that process will go.

    Kris Thom White had this to say on Feb 13, 2006 Posts: 18
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