Why Wal-Mart’s video downloading won’t work

Turns out Wal-Mart’s deal to allow people to download digital copies of Superman Returns was just a trial balloon. The retailer has now announced a full-service movie download service beginning in 2007.

I think, at least in Wal-Mart’s case, Scott says it exactly right. The retailer has, with their Superman Returns deal, now set a price-point of between $1.97 and $3.97 in the minds of customers. Granted, that’s with the purchase of a physical DVD, but it’s out there now that Wal-Mart charges less than $4 for video downloads. And then there’s the separate issue of those prices not being nearly enough to cover the technical support that customers are going to expect when things don’t go quite right. And what’s their refund policy if the file is wonky? And do they have a plan for dealing with questions about the downloads in-store?

I’ll say it again. I want to be able to buy a copy of a movie that I can watch anywhere. I don’t have to register the number of players I’m going to use when I buy a DVD, why am I so limited in my options when it comes to downloads? I want to buy the license to watch a movie where and when I please and transfer the file at will as long as it respects copyright laws.

By the way, Blockbuster also announced they would “may” be introducing a video download service next year. Just to be on the safe side I’d recommend against holding my breath on this one.

Quick Takes: 11/29/06

Special downloading edition for you today.

  • Warner Bros. is planning on launching their own movie download service next year that would allow the movies to be burned to DVD.
  • BitTorrent is about to announce deals with a number of studios, as well as other content producers, that would allow their stuff to be legally funneled through the service.
  • More news on the Wal-Mart/Superman Returns deal announced yesterday. The downloads will only be usable on machines running Windows and even then won’t be transferable to video iPods. Thord at The Blog Herald laments that we can’t just buy the rights to content to listen to, watch or otherwise consume when and where we choose, a point I completely agree with. I’d love to legally be able to rip my DVDs to my laptop for viewing whenever but, you know, can’t.

Mobio joins MMA

Mobio, a company that delivers movie times to mobile users, has announced it has joined the Mobile Marketing Association.

That might not sound like big news, but I do think it’s important that content providers and companies like this are joining groups for a number of reasons. First, trade groups are a great way to amass knowledge and share what’s worked and what hasn’t with others. Second, organizations like this are out there trying to create standards in new fields that too often have none. That’s important, especially for something like mobile marketing, because standards can help increase user adoption rates.

Let’s look for good things from both Mobio and the MMA out of this.

The Onion on focus groups

Focus Group Hated It Right Up Until the Guy’s Head Got Cut Off.

Letting go

This eMarketer story is focused around how 30 percent of American homes now have DVR functionality but it contains a quote that is applicable to any media, not just TV.

By letting go of how, when and where content is accessed, content providers can reach a greater audience that is able to consume more of its content.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a TV network, movie studio, newspaper publisher or anything else. People – at least the young, tech-savvy crowd that marketers are going after – are becoming used to reading, watching or listening to media at a time that’s convenient to them. It’s going to be important for everyone to adjust to this model sooner rather than later to avoid being left in the dust.

Quick Takes: 11/28/06

  • The Boston Gal talks about a special ticket package for Dreamgirls that not only gets you into the theater but also access to a costume exhibit and more. This is a very nice way to add incentives to movie-going.
  • More coverage of the “unique name versus a number” story for sequels from Frank Cimatu and via the Strategic Name Development blog.
  • Dan Calladine dropped me a line to point out this post he put up about a lenticular poster for Happy Feet that is, as he says, pretty cool and a nice use of YouTube to boot.
  • The iMediaConnection panel convenes to review the website and MySpace execution for Borat.
  • Wal-Mart will let you download Superman Returns from their website after you buy a copy of the DVD. You can watch the video on a number of devices but I’m betting they’re going to be DRM-ed to within an inch of their life.

LOTD: November 28

  • Earlier in the week, Mashable’s Pete Cashmore pointed out that Break.com is going to be dropping some coin for good video content that it publishes to the homepage. [via]
  • For those of you who thought Vault was a potential issue for your business, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Check out jobberwiki. [via eHub]
  • Research that eMarketer is talking about today is saying that the DVR will be in about 30% of American homes by 2009. Statistically that might look like the trend from right now, but I think that the cable and satellite co’s will make this statistic way off by that point.
  • YouTube vids will now be seen on the phones of V Cast subscribers on Verizon’s network

Book Review: Citizen Marketers

Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba provide plenty of examples of how people like you and me are changing the face of marketing in their new book “Citizen Marketers: When People are the Message.” The book is cram-packed with stories of people who have created their own ads for a company simply on account of being a fan of a product. Or how enthusiasts have created online communities where they and people like them can trade stories and tips. Or how dis-satisfied customers have done irreparable damage to a corporate reputation by sharing with their online audience a bad experience they’ve had.

McConnell and Huba touch on a few key points. First, people are sometimes so moved by their love of a product or company that they are motivated to create their own pseudo-marketing content as a way to express that. Second, people are always seeking out a community of like-minded people and, if one does not already exist, they’ll create their own. Third, customer service is no longer a closed loop between a company rep and the customer. Now bad customer service experiences wind up online for all the world to see. Fourth, a company that knows how powerful their community is can achieve great things, as long as it never forgets that community has the potential to crush them if they start making missteps.

To amplify those points and show just how important it is for companies to monitor what the community is saying about them, companies need to remember a few things:

1) Google never forgets and it is an impartial tool, remembering both the good and the bad.

2) The tools that allow people to broadcast their opinions and enthusiasm have never been more prevalent, cheaper or easier to use.

3) Google loves those prevalent, cheap and easy to use tools.

4) Every company needs to figure out how to engage the people using those tools.

By giving examples of enthusiastic self-publishers such as Mike at HackingNetflix, the guy who runs TiVoCommunity and the two Jakes who run Threadless, Ben and Jackie hammer home the fact that not only are non-marketing people now largely responsible for corporate communications but that these people are creating companies of their own based on a new idea. Mike doesn’t know everything and so looks to the community to tip him off to things. The TiVoCommunity is based around the idea that people contributing to a hive-mind can help everyone enjoy their TiVos more. And Threadless lets members decide what shirts get made by running weekly contests. When was the last time you heard an old-fashioned marketing guy admit he didn’t know the answer to something?

Ben and Jackie hammer home the point that, whatever the motivation, citizen marketers are a powerful and influential group so often and so well that, quite frankly, you’d have to read the book with a sort of willful ignorance to not be moved to some sort of action after reading it.

Just make sure it’s the right sort of action. The book offers examples of companies that fully engage, only do so privately and then disavow that action publicly, offer grudging acknowledgment or ignore completely. It makes me shake my head when I read about the latter three. I don’t get non-engagement. I just don’t.

If you take the opportunity to read Citizen Marketers and really absorb the lessons Ben and Jackie have to offer I’m sure you’ll shake your head at companies like that as well, even if yours has been one of them in the past. And if you want even more lessons on how to do this sort of thing right make sure you’re reading their Church of the Customer blog on a regular basis.

The best thing I can say about Citizen Marketers is that it should be on every marketing practitioner’s desk. That way, when a nervous boss asks why they should engage and embrace the consumer-generated-content being created they can offer this book up as evidence. It offers a counter-argument to just about any skepticism.

It should be noted that I participated, albeit in a small way, in the book. Ben and Jackie put out a request looking for people to read rough drafts of some of the book’s chapters and offer suggestions and comments, a request I was more than happy to respond to. There were a dozen or more of us who did so, including fellow Viral Community member CK and others and we’re all given shout-outs at the end of the book. That’s a great idea they had and certainly goes a long way in showing just how much they believe their own preachings.

Thanks to Ben and Jackie for allowing me to participate in the shaping of the book and for providing a review copy for my perusal.

Making it worth the audience’s time

A trio of recent stories have all hit my radar and all combine to make a universal point.

The first is this story from The Seattle Times. It asks a relatively simple question that I can honestly say had never occurred to me before: Why do all movies cost the same? That’s a fantastic question. Almost no other retail works like this, with universal pricing of all products. Other verticals have price variation based on a variety of factors, including cost of production, distribution and often the cost of display. The last point is especially in place in the grocery industry, where manufacturers pay to have their products placed on the “golden shelf” that’s just below eye level for an adult. All of those are added up and a consumer price point is arrived upon. But with movies, a flick that cost $5 million to produce – Clerks II for example, cost the same to see in theaters as Superman Returns, which cost well over $200 million to make.

The answer, of course, is that the profit from small and successful films is used to defray the cost of expensive failures and the profit from big movies is used to finance smaller and more experimental movies. That’s not necessarily a good answer, but it is the logic that’s used. The main problem with this system is that, while it works for the studios and the theater owners, it doesn’t work for movie patrons. There’s absolutely nothing to incentivize the act of going to the movies on a Saturday night. And no, you’re not allowed to point out gift certificates or passes. Ask anyone – they usually aren’t valid in the first two weeks of a movie’s release, which is exactly when most marketing efforts have ended and the movie has already been deemed a success or a failure. I’m not sure why, but that’s the system that’s in place. This has the odd effect of actually discouraging people from going to see the latest and most hyped movie. They have coupons, they want to use them but can’t and runs counter to most other industries on the face of the planet, who try to build usage by offering discounts and deals. Of course the movie industry doesn’t work like that, with a movie that’s been out a month now considered well past its prime.

Bill Green makes the point that theater owners especially have their head in the sand regarding the reality of today’s marketplace. He points out that owners continue to blame the audience problems they’re having on the quality of the movies while at the same time claiming that everything is fine and they don’t really need to change what they’re doing. He says that his lack of movie going has little to do with the movies being shown and actually is a result of the price increases and the overall experience. It’s those things that are keeping people away from the theater. And, as Green says, with the ever expanding number of options – including a shorter theater to DVD window – available to people it’s not like anyone really feels like they’re missing out.

Leave it to Mark Cuban, then, to find a way to try and incentivize movie-going – online ticket buying in particular. People buying a ticket to The Architect through MovieTickets.com will receive access to MP3s of the movie’s score as well as downloadable deleted scenes from the flick. That’s just the sort of thing that can encourage people to try a new movie or go see it in the theater as opposed to saying “I’ll just wait for the DVD.” They’ve gotten something additional and substantive for their dollar, not just the fleeting experience of a theatrical movie presentation.

Going to a movie is no longer the experience it once was. There are more entertainment options out there, people are more scheduled and have PDAs that draw their attention and just generally have other things going on that take precedence over going to see a movie whose trailer gave away the best romantic moments/action sequences/jokes anyway. The experience of going to see a movie has changed from one that was fun and escapist to one that’s been turned into a commodity. Not only does moviegoing cost more than ever before but so do the snacks, on top of which we’re treated to a half-hour of ads for network dramas and telecomm firms before the trailers even start. As Scott Kirshner says, the ability to have something queued-up in Netflix or other online service reduces the sense of immediacy that we feel about consuming something now because we know we’ll get it sooner or later.
So here’s what I think needs to be done:

  1. Start accepting coupons as soon as the movie opens. It’s not like I can’t use my Border’s gift card the first two weeks of a book’s release. This makes no sense. Stop it.
  2. Either drop prices or drop the commercials. Every other medium is moving toward a “pay for no ads or get it free with ads” while the movie industry wants people to pay more AND accept an amount of advertising that we would turn off if we were at home.
  3. Think Wi-Fi. People are bringing their phones and other PDAs with them to the theater so offer them some fun content that they can upload while they’re in the lobby.
  4. Create more incentives for online buying. This reduces the costs of having multiple people at the ticket booths and gives people something tangible they can come away with.

In short, the goal should be to give people an experience that’s worth their time and money.

LOTD: November 27th

  • I think it’s important that we all remember that while we might know what Web 2.0 means, not everyone does, even just in the marketing profession. Those who do, though, are seeing their knowledge and practices pay off.
  • As proof that sometimes we’re likely to out-clever ourselves, all those URLs with “your” and “my” in the title that are used for specific campaigns might not be as easy to remember as we think they are.
  • The practice of recruiting college students to spread the word about social networks on campus is one that not everyone is thrilled about, with some feeling that students, because they’re so sought after, actually need to be protected from the practice.
  • Video sharing site Break.com has upped the price it pays to people who upload videos to $500 for live-action and $2,000 for animated shorts.
  • Ben McConnell nicely analyzes a recent New York Times story on word-of-mouth and engagement and reminds us all that it’s not necessarily enough just to be talked about. It’s better when people feel an emotional connection to a brand or company that spurs them to action on behalf of that brand or company.