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Three Screens and a Cloud: Netflix’s Qwikster, Facebook & Amazon 2011/09/23

Posted by nydawg in Copyright, Curating, Digital Archives, Digital Archiving, Information Literacy, Information Technology (IT), Intellectual Property, Media.
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One of the most pressing and intimidating challenges digital archivists face today, is the fact that there is so much content offered in so many quick-changing distribution formats and accessible on short-lived storage media.  I found that the easiest way to describe this is “Three screens and a cloud” or as former Microsoft head Ray Ozzie put it: “how we consume IT is really shifting from a machine-centric viewpoint to what we refer to as three screens and a cloud:  the phone, the PC, and the TV ultimately, and how we deliver value to them.” [i would change that to IP, but hey, I’m not CEO of Microsoft.]

So as archivists who are concerned with the distribution and accessibility of our digital assets, it is important to ask early, “What format or what media will be required and who is the targeted end user on what appliance?”  In other words, you probably don’t want to send a hi-def Blu-Ray digital video stream meant for a big screen tv to a tiny smartphone!  Or you probably don’t want to stream a FlashVideo version to an iPad user.

But, on the other hand, archivists may not need to archive or preserve (for long-term functions) every possible variation of each format version (for smartphone or netbook (iPad) or television).   By articulating what is really needed, archivists can streamline processes and avoid making mountains where molehills are sufficient.  Archivists who can see the forest for the trees will be able to describe fewer assets more completely so that specific needles can be found within the haystacks.

This leads me to the real groundshifting news stories that happened this week.  The first one is that NetFlix is splitting its DVDs-by-mail service from its streaming.  According to Huffington Post: “In a post on The Netflix Blog that went up Sunday night, the company’s CEO, Reed Hastings, announced that Netflix would split its DVD-by-mail service and its streaming-video service into two companies. The new DVD-only company, called “Qwikster,” will be completely separate from the streaming business. Hastings also expressed contrition for the way the company rolled out its recent price hike, which alienated many customers. . . . “It is clear from the feedback over the past two months that many members felt we lacked respect and humility in the way we announced the separation of DVD and streaming, and the price changes. That was certainly not our intent, and I offer my sincere apology.”

Well, obviously, many people are up in arms and think this is the biggest boneheaded marketing move since Coke introduced New Coke! The NY Times’s David Pogue does a pretty good job of getting his gander up as he parses the Netflix apology without fully acknowledging the economics of the “streaming” game.  I won’t get too much into the legal issues (which I don’t fully understand), but I do remember when I was working in “streaming media” as Senior Encoder at SonicNet (and Streamland), licensing costs and marketing dollars generally shift from one medium (vhs, CD or radio) to another (DVD, streaming media or satellite radio).   It seems inevitable that NetFlix realizes, as Blockbuster did years ago, that physical media will soon be obsolete, . . .  so they’re trying to split themselves in order to have different licensing deals with different stakeholders and end users. . . . . and Blockbuster, long-ago doomed, seeks to get in on the action too!

But ultimately, “An issue that both Netflix and Dish face, even when they don’t want to admit it, is the inconsistency of broadband connectivity across the United States.”

Another huge news story from this week was at f8 where Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced major Facebook renovations. ““Millions of people curate stories of their lives on Facebook every day and have no way to share them once they fall off your profile page…we have been working on ‘timeline’ all year…it’s the story of your life and completely new way to express yourself.  “It has three pieces: all your stories, your apps and a new way to express who you are.”  Zuckerberg said he wanted people to be able to share “their entire lives” on Facebook and have “total control” over how their content appeared online.”

Zuckerberg “also announced a series of partnerships with music, media and games companies –including Spotify, Netflix, Zynga [the maker of Farmville] and The Washington Post.”  So this brings us back to the idea of Netflix which  “announced it is integrating its video streaming service with Facebook — allowing users to watch videos on either site and see what people on their friends lists are viewing.  It will be available in 44 countries except in Netflix’s biggest market — the United States, because of the 1998 Video Privacy Protection Act that prohibits the disclosure of video sales or rental records, the company explained.”

So what does this all mean for “Three Screens and a Cloud?”  Well, it’s important to remember that “Netflix is the biggest driver of U.S. Internet traffic, according to one study. As Internet service providers begin capping or tiering their data plans, that could cause consumers to watch fewer streaming videos on Netflix, analysts say.”  So as phone companies begin capping data plans for distribution (streaming), then another part of the archival equation is the storage medium. . . . and, as many people know, the battle is in the Clouds!

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