Here's what buying movies and TV shows online looks like, drawn in marker

How confusing is the world of streaming, renting, and buying Hollywood's product in the digital era? It is this confusing.

Watching TV and movies over the web is a real thing now. You could previously state that it was a thing for those who loved spending lots of money in iTunes, or for the kinds of nerds (like me) who didn’t mind finding videos … elsewhere on the web and converting them with Handbrake. But now you can watch lots of movies and TV on huge screens and tiny devices, on video game systems and tiny cable-connected boxes, and if you really want to, you can stream Breaking Bad to your Nintendo Wii. Just today, Amazon Prime announced its pick-up of Parks & Recreation, Friday Night Lights, Battlestar Galactica, and Parenthood, with greater selection than Hulu. Feels like an embarrassment of riches.

But the people who make the TV and movies we want to watch, they’re a bit hesitant to make it entirely easy to find their material, buy it, and watch it just about anywhere, when you would like to. Even if you were the type to spend $20 on yet another version of Back to the Future, there’s nowhere to buy it in digital, streaming form. A terrific article in Scientific American details the myriad ways content creators are entirely stuck in a “Rent DVDs from the nearest Blockbuster” mentality, and the continuing culture of piracy that mentality enables. It makes this argument (slightly condensed here) as to why production companies don’t like, and maybe actually loathe, their newest tech-savvy customers:

… When you rent the digital version, you often have only 24 hours to finish watching it, which makes no sense. Do these companies really expect us to rent the same movie again tomorrow night if we can't finish it tonight? In the DVD days, a Blockbuster rental was three days. … When you rent online, you don't get any of the DVD extras—deleted scenes, alternative endings, subtitles—even though you're paying as much as you would have paid to rent a DVD.

So how hard is it these days to choose the right service to rent or buy video from, and choose the right device to keep around for watching? I thought maybe I should try to draw it with markers. Here's what that looks like:

Here's what web video looks like today, if you force me to draw it using magic markers and no design sense
Click for a larger image view. Don't expect it to be prettier.

There are many fancy software packages that can make a much more sensible version of this chart. But I wanted you to feel what it actually feels like when one thinks about choosing a video service to rely on, a device that can adapt to that service or others you might pick on a whim. Also, I thought it was kind of telling, all that black smushiness, inside of which people are actually trying to give Hollywood money, and Hollywood is just ignoring them.

It also makes clear why Apple, yet again, has an appealing pitch in digital video: start buying things from us, and it will all work. What’s more, the secondary, implied pitch goes: enough people will buy from us that all those services we don’t control will want to reach those things you bought from us, though we will ensure they work properly.

I threw the Nexus Q on the chart because it is made by the owner of one of the content stores (the Google Play Store), even though the Nexus Q has been postponed. It got a bit trampled under by the lines connecting other services to many more devices, but, then again, that actually makes sense.

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