Changing the way I consume media

“Owning” media used to be about buying the CD, or the DVD and adding it to your collection. I have a large CD and DVD collection as a result. Even when people were raving about downloadable music, I always went out to buy the CD. If it wasn’t “in the collection”, it didn’t feel mine. I also appreciate the finer things, such as the sleeve design, etc. Same for DVDs, buying a box-set feels a special experience, particularly if the box-set has had some thought put into the design.

But, there is an awful lot of media out there, and I only have so much money and space. Buying every film you hear may be good is one thing, but affording it and storing it (if you even watch it again) is another.

The model was “want it, own it” or “not interested”.

So our household has been switching models. Firstly, we decided to stop buying DVDs on recommendations/whim/preference so we don’t unnecessary bloat to an already bloated collection. We get a lot of recommendations for films, we miss out on an awful lot of films that are regarded as “required viewing” for film fans, so we decided to switch to a rental model. We currently use LoveFilm for this. This was a revelation, now we only invest in DVDs as part of a series (say, Doctor Who), special box-sets (the latest Alien HD box-set is awesome) or because we truly believe we will get lasting value from watching it (Chris Morris’ Four Lions is excellent). For £7ish a month, we get 5 DVDs.

But times are changing. Now, consumer devices are fighting to give the next level of media consumption: internet-based content. Whether you choose to buy (eg. iTunes music downloads), rent (download a film from Zune Video to watch within the defined period) or stream (true video-on-demand), people are changing and companies need to change with them.

I’ve always been a firm fan of buying CDs. Having digital copies of CDs feels like it weakens my relationship with the artist and the product itself. Having the designed case feels like I have bought something and the physical CD is at least a back-up of my music. Add to that the maze presented by variousDRMmodels and downloadable music in /MP3 or .WMA form becomes a minefield. If I buy music, I want to be able to use it on all my devices (PCs, portable MP3 players, XBox 360, Blu-Ray player).

Having just bought a Windows Phone 7 and – more importantly – Zune Marketplace launching in the UK, the model has changed.

The model is now: “have (love)”, “have (interested)”, “don’t want”.

Using Zune Pass, I can download just about anything and keep it while my subscription lasts. I benefit from being able to listen to “non-essential”, possibly mediocre music without contributing to my collection or bank balance. I can listen to Take That’s new album without buying it because, frankly, I’m not a fan. But I appreciate good song-writing and love him or hate him, Gary Barlow is [mostly] very good at what he does. If I really like an album, I’ll buy the physical copy from Amazon. I’m keeping the music industry alive using both the new and old-skool models.

That just leaves films. While I really like LoveFilm rental, the waiting period often lasts months for films and a film is often not there when you need it. The only realistic modern option is to be able to download or stream it. Zune Marketplace also provides this and having previously streamed HD through my XBox 360, I can confirm it is a very sleek experience. But it’s expensive and is not covered or subsidised by the Zune Pass agreement. The catalogue is also limited.

What is needed is LoveFilm (or even NetFlix) to provide streaming services to the UK market. LoveFilm do provide streaming services, but their output is reported to be poor quality, DVD-quality at best and being computer based really spoils what should be an 11-foot, surround-sound, large screen experience. Yes, they have launched their offering on PS3 machines, but this is now a walled-garden. Why should I invest in a console worth £200+ just to watch LoveFilm films? I have no interest in gaming other than the casual gaming I already enjoy on the XBox 360.

So while I enjoy Nightwish, Take That, My Chemical Romance, Talking Heads and anything else I can get my hands on through Zune, I will be forced to wait for an equivalent offering for films. LoveFilm have said they are “Looking into other devices” but I don’t hold my breath. They seem to have got in to bed with Sony and Samsung and Microsoft consumers (with their already otherwise complete media experience) will be forced to suffer. Alternatively, Zune could increase their catalogue and decrease/subsidise their rental price through Zune Pass. Either way, in austere times, it’s not looking good for LoveFilm unless they act soon.