Why video streaming will never be like music streaming

It’s Friday night, and you want to kick back and relax after a long week’s work. You fire up your Apple TV and click on Netflix to find a movie to watch. Maybe you like Denzel Washington, and want to see one of his great movies. Search for Denzel, and what do you find? Four films, and not the best. No Malcolm X, no Philadelphia, no Hurricane, Training Day, or Inside Man. They’ve got Flight, but they don’t have American Gangster or The Taking of Pelham 123. (However, if you want to pay for a rental, the iTunes Store has 41 of his movies…)

But if you want to check out the latest albums on Apple Music or Spotify, just look at what’s new. You’ll have almost all of the biggest hits, in every major genre, along with most artists’ full catalogues. You want to hear an old Rolling Stones album? No problem.

Why the discrepancy? Why is so much music available to stream, and so few movies and TV shows?

Read the rest of the article on Macworld.

44 thoughts on “Why video streaming will never be like music streaming

  1. Thanks! Good article. FYI, you can stream the ECM catalogue from Google Music.

    I’d be interested to know how come you can’t find it on Spotify or Apple Music. Who is holding this back?

    • ECM was on Spotify a couple of years ago, then pulled their music (with the exception of a few compilation albums). It’s the label that didn’t want the low royalties. I didn’t know they were on Google Music, but perhaps they negotiated a better deal with Google.

  2. Thanks! Good article. FYI, you can stream the ECM catalogue from Google Music.

    I’d be interested to know how come you can’t find it on Spotify or Apple Music. Who is holding this back?

    • ECM was on Spotify a couple of years ago, then pulled their music (with the exception of a few compilation albums). It’s the label that didn’t want the low royalties. I didn’t know they were on Google Music, but perhaps they negotiated a better deal with Google.

  3. Your Macworld article is literally just fine, Kirk. And well written.

    But I wish to register a complaint: you’re discussing the manifestation, and ignoring the underlying cause.

    Unlike music, movies/TV still have pricing power. Windowing is just the optimal way of MONETIZING that pricing power. It’s kinda like airline pricing.

    If movie/TV could get away with selling an unlimited streaming service for $750/month, give or take, I’m sure they’d be happy to do away with windowing. But, of course, the market wouldn’t work that way. (And FWIW, if the music industry still had the pricing power they had in the mid-’90’s, unlimited streaming services would cost around $250/month.)

    Also, I think you overrate the historical path dependency of windowing. If the movie/TV industry were invented today, they’d come up with something quite close to the current windowing scheme to maximize profits.

    Worth noting that windowing is relatively new in the historical sense of the movie industry. Of course, it didn’t exist at all before TV became mainstream. And even in the ’50’s and ’60’s, ancillary profits from selling to broadcast TV were minor. It was only in the ’70’s and ’80’s with the advent of cable TV and home video that the current windowing scheme really became important to the industry.

    Finally, worth noting that OTT VOD has allowed the industry to further fine tune windowing for best monetization. Note how a popular film will initially appear on Amazon as a $9.99 rental, then move to a $5.99 rental, before settling into the $3.99 rental slot…

    • I agree with most of your points. It is a historical accretion of windows that were slowly added after TV. But if movies were new today, I don’t think they’d use the same system.

      A very smart person in the music industry told me, when I was researching this article, that movie executives – at least the ones that deal with the money – are among the smartest people he has ever met. They have this down to a science. Look at the way Disney releases movies, then pulls them to increase demand, then re-releases them at full price. It’s genius. 🙂

  4. Your Macworld article is literally just fine, Kirk. And well written.

    But I wish to register a complaint: you’re discussing the manifestation, and ignoring the underlying cause.

    Unlike music, movies/TV still have pricing power. Windowing is just the optimal way of MONETIZING that pricing power. It’s kinda like airline pricing.

    If movie/TV could get away with selling an unlimited streaming service for $750/month, give or take, I’m sure they’d be happy to do away with windowing. But, of course, the market wouldn’t work that way. (And FWIW, if the music industry still had the pricing power they had in the mid-’90’s, unlimited streaming services would cost around $250/month.)

    Also, I think you overrate the historical path dependency of windowing. If the movie/TV industry were invented today, they’d come up with something quite close to the current windowing scheme to maximize profits.

    Worth noting that windowing is relatively new in the historical sense of the movie industry. Of course, it didn’t exist at all before TV became mainstream. And even in the ’50’s and ’60’s, ancillary profits from selling to broadcast TV were minor. It was only in the ’70’s and ’80’s with the advent of cable TV and home video that the current windowing scheme really became important to the industry.

    Finally, worth noting that OTT VOD has allowed the industry to further fine tune windowing for best monetization. Note how a popular film will initially appear on Amazon as a $9.99 rental, then move to a $5.99 rental, before settling into the $3.99 rental slot…

    • I agree with most of your points. It is a historical accretion of windows that were slowly added after TV. But if movies were new today, I don’t think they’d use the same system.

      A very smart person in the music industry told me, when I was researching this article, that movie executives – at least the ones that deal with the money – are among the smartest people he has ever met. They have this down to a science. Look at the way Disney releases movies, then pulls them to increase demand, then re-releases them at full price. It’s genius. 🙂

  5. “A very smart person in the music industry told me, when I was researching this article, that movie executives – at least the ones that deal with the money – are among the smartest people he has ever met. “

    Well, two points:

    – The music industry folks were the dumbest people in the world. They really didn’t have to lose their pricing power. They made some very incredibly poor decisions, that seemed like obviously poor decisions to me back in real time. (I remember having conversations back around ’94 or so with friends after I’d first ripped CD tracks onto a Mac with AudioCD player, or whatever it was called, where I was saying the industry simply had to completely pull the CD format off the market for an DRM’d format and take the major short-term hit, or they were doomed.)

    – The movie people had the incredible advantage of watching the mistakes the music people made. They really studied the lessons of the demise of the music industry, took copious notes, and worked out effective responses. Maybe that makes them really smart. Or maybe it just makes them merely competent.

    “But if movies were new today, I don’t think they’d use the same system.”

    I disagree. I’ve thought about this a lot over the years. And I dare you to come up with a system that better monetizes the assets. I can’t. And I’ve tried. Airline pricing seems insane, until you consider the possible alternatives…

  6. “A very smart person in the music industry told me, when I was researching this article, that movie executives – at least the ones that deal with the money – are among the smartest people he has ever met. “

    Well, two points:

    – The music industry folks were the dumbest people in the world. They really didn’t have to lose their pricing power. They made some very incredibly poor decisions, that seemed like obviously poor decisions to me back in real time. (I remember having conversations back around ’94 or so with friends after I’d first ripped CD tracks onto a Mac with AudioCD player, or whatever it was called, where I was saying the industry simply had to completely pull the CD format off the market for an DRM’d format and take the major short-term hit, or they were doomed.)

    – The movie people had the incredible advantage of watching the mistakes the music people made. They really studied the lessons of the demise of the music industry, took copious notes, and worked out effective responses. Maybe that makes them really smart. Or maybe it just makes them merely competent.

    “But if movies were new today, I don’t think they’d use the same system.”

    I disagree. I’ve thought about this a lot over the years. And I dare you to come up with a system that better monetizes the assets. I can’t. And I’ve tried. Airline pricing seems insane, until you consider the possible alternatives…

  7. “But if movies were new today, I don’t think they’d use the same system.”

    Think about windowing this way:

    About 50% of a movie’s cost consists of owning a weekend.

    $30m budget = $30m marketing. $150m budget = $150 marketing.

    When you’re paying for a film, you’re not just paying for the film itself. You’re paying for proximity to that particular weekend.

  8. “But if movies were new today, I don’t think they’d use the same system.”

    Think about windowing this way:

    About 50% of a movie’s cost consists of owning a weekend.

    $30m budget = $30m marketing. $150m budget = $150 marketing.

    When you’re paying for a film, you’re not just paying for the film itself. You’re paying for proximity to that particular weekend.

    • Yes, I saw that. When you think about it, $50 isn’t unfair. Assuming you’re two people, and you factor in the cost of getting to a cinema (if you don’t live within walking distance), parking, babysitting (if you have kids), and the annoyance of the cinema itself, people talking, commercials before the film, noise of popcorn eating, etc… It’s not that bad a deal. I wouldn’t pay it; it’s rare that there’s a movie that I absolutely have to see right away. But living in a rural area, I could imagine a lot of people might be interested.

      On the other hand, you can rent a movie that’s six months old or so for a few bucks…

    • Yes, I saw that. When you think about it, $50 isn’t unfair. Assuming you’re two people, and you factor in the cost of getting to a cinema (if you don’t live within walking distance), parking, babysitting (if you have kids), and the annoyance of the cinema itself, people talking, commercials before the film, noise of popcorn eating, etc… It’s not that bad a deal. I wouldn’t pay it; it’s rare that there’s a movie that I absolutely have to see right away. But living in a rural area, I could imagine a lot of people might be interested.

      On the other hand, you can rent a movie that’s six months old or so for a few bucks…

  9. “When you think about it, $50 isn’t unfair.”

    If anything, it’s slightly cheaper than I would’ve assumed. Some studio did a single movie one-off of this for $25, IIRC, and the talk was that for it to really work, the price would have to be at least $60 – $75. (Think of 5 teenage boys getting together to watch the new superhero movie.)

    But I still don’t think this particular scheme will fly because of the single-purpose STB hangup.

    (One of the things I love about UK English is that the word “scheme” doesn’t have the negative connotations it does in US English.)

    “On the other hand, you can rent a movie that’s six months old or so for a few bucks…”

    Sure. And if you wait some more months, it’ll come to an all-you-can-eat streaming service or cable TV channel you already subscribe to. All about temporal proximity…

    Back when Netflix streaming was first getting going, I predicted it was going to be a paradise for bargain basement shoppers, and I think that turned out to be pretty much correct.

  10. “When you think about it, $50 isn’t unfair.”

    If anything, it’s slightly cheaper than I would’ve assumed. Some studio did a single movie one-off of this for $25, IIRC, and the talk was that for it to really work, the price would have to be at least $60 – $75. (Think of 5 teenage boys getting together to watch the new superhero movie.)

    But I still don’t think this particular scheme will fly because of the single-purpose STB hangup.

    (One of the things I love about UK English is that the word “scheme” doesn’t have the negative connotations it does in US English.)

    “On the other hand, you can rent a movie that’s six months old or so for a few bucks…”

    Sure. And if you wait some more months, it’ll come to an all-you-can-eat streaming service or cable TV channel you already subscribe to. All about temporal proximity…

    Back when Netflix streaming was first getting going, I predicted it was going to be a paradise for bargain basement shoppers, and I think that turned out to be pretty much correct.

  11. Yet another Windowing Would Be Invented If It Didn’t Already Exist note:

    More and more MUSIC artists are now delaying putting their albums on streaming services for a period of time to create a window where folks have the buy the album…

    • Yes, I mention that briefly in the article. Also, some albums have a few tracks that you can’t stream, at least for several months.

  12. Yet another Windowing Would Be Invented If It Didn’t Already Exist note:

    More and more MUSIC artists are now delaying putting their albums on streaming services for a period of time to create a window where folks have the buy the album…

    • Yes, I mention that briefly in the article. Also, some albums have a few tracks that you can’t stream, at least for several months.

  13. “Yes, I mention that briefly in the article. Also, some albums have a few tracks that you can’t stream, at least for several months.”

    Yes. Yes, you did bring that up. And I really did read your entire article!

    But there was a show on WNYC radio this morning on the topic, and I forgot about that paragraph in your piece. Temporal proximity wins again!

      • Ah, that’ll show up in my podcast feed later then. If I had known, I might have even called in. I actually did call in last week, for the first time, but the segment ran out before they got to me. 🙁

  14. “Yes, I mention that briefly in the article. Also, some albums have a few tracks that you can’t stream, at least for several months.”

    Yes. Yes, you did bring that up. And I really did read your entire article!

    But there was a show on WNYC radio this morning on the topic, and I forgot about that paragraph in your piece. Temporal proximity wins again!

      • Ah, that’ll show up in my podcast feed later then. If I had known, I might have even called in. I actually did call in last week, for the first time, but the segment ran out before they got to me. 🙁

  15. “Which WNYC show?”

    Brian Lehrer. But it was only about the music industry, and the windowing thing seemed like a tangent. I was only half-listening, and that caught my ear.

    (I don’t listen to Lopate, because KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic, an AMAZING set of new music, comes on at noon. I only make an exception when Lopate is on vacation, because he tends to have absurdly great guest hosts. He’s had Christopher Walken guest host a few times, which was just as perfect as you’d imagine.)

  16. “Which WNYC show?”

    Brian Lehrer. But it was only about the music industry, and the windowing thing seemed like a tangent. I was only half-listening, and that caught my ear.

    (I don’t listen to Lopate, because KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic, an AMAZING set of new music, comes on at noon. I only make an exception when Lopate is on vacation, because he tends to have absurdly great guest hosts. He’s had Christopher Walken guest host a few times, which was just as perfect as you’d imagine.)

  17. “I actually did call in last week, for the first time, but the segment ran out before they got to me.”

    Well, at least you’ll have your intro now:

    “Hi, Brian. Long-time caller. First-time getting-on-airer.”

  18. “I actually did call in last week, for the first time, but the segment ran out before they got to me.”

    Well, at least you’ll have your intro now:

    “Hi, Brian. Long-time caller. First-time getting-on-airer.”

  19. Yet another Windowing Would Be Invented If It Didn’t Already Exist note:

    Finally realized that the ORIGINAL windowing scheme, (at least that I can think of), came from the book industry, with Hardcover / Paperback windowing.

    That predates the far more modest dawn of windowing in the film industry by a couple of decades.

    For whatever reason, I’m noticing a pattern where windowing schemes ALWAYS seem to crop up in entertainment for home consumption…

    • True. But remember that in the early days of paperbacks, the books were “paperback originals,” rather than cheaper versions of hardcovers. It does make sense with books, because it’s less about availability than price. You pay less for a smaller, less robust book. (Which is fine for most books.) But it’s also now a way to get people to pay full price when a book is new.

  20. Yet another Windowing Would Be Invented If It Didn’t Already Exist note:

    Finally realized that the ORIGINAL windowing scheme, (at least that I can think of), came from the book industry, with Hardcover / Paperback windowing.

    That predates the far more modest dawn of windowing in the film industry by a couple of decades.

    For whatever reason, I’m noticing a pattern where windowing schemes ALWAYS seem to crop up in entertainment for home consumption…

    • True. But remember that in the early days of paperbacks, the books were “paperback originals,” rather than cheaper versions of hardcovers. It does make sense with books, because it’s less about availability than price. You pay less for a smaller, less robust book. (Which is fine for most books.) But it’s also now a way to get people to pay full price when a book is new.

  21. “But remember that in the early days of paperbacks, the books were “paperback originals,” rather than cheaper versions of hardcovers.”

    No doubt. But in my ten minutes of internet research before writing that comment, I found that publishers latched onto the Hardcover / Paperback windowing scheme VERY soon after paperback originals appeared.

    —–

    “It does make sense with books, because it’s less about availability than price. You pay less for a smaller, less robust book … But it’s also now a way to get people to pay full price when a book is new.”

    While of course paperbacks are smaller and less durable, I STRONGLY disagree with your overall conclusion here.

    – Hardcovers have ALWAYS had a far higher profit margin than paperbacks, something that long predates the eBook, which made it even more pronounced.

    – Since the very dawn of the Hardcover / Paperback windowing scheme, (sometime around WWII, best I can figure), the publishers have ALWAYS windowed the paperback release. They would’ve released the two formats simultaneously, if they weren’t intentionally using windowing to best monetize their assets.

    In short, getting folks to pay more for temporal proximity with books is not about “now”; it’s about the last 70 years…

    • Well, there have always been paperback originals. In the 1970s, most of the sci-fi I read was paperback only. And you forget another change made in publishing in the last few decades: trade paperbacks. The only started becoming common in the 1980s or so. Before that, almost all paperbacks were the smaller mass market books.

      Some interesting stuff here on the history of paperbacks.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paperback

      And let us not forget that paperbacks were technically the norm for books published as serials in the 19th century. People who wanted full books waited for the later hardcover editions.

  22. “But remember that in the early days of paperbacks, the books were “paperback originals,” rather than cheaper versions of hardcovers.”

    No doubt. But in my ten minutes of internet research before writing that comment, I found that publishers latched onto the Hardcover / Paperback windowing scheme VERY soon after paperback originals appeared.

    —–

    “It does make sense with books, because it’s less about availability than price. You pay less for a smaller, less robust book … But it’s also now a way to get people to pay full price when a book is new.”

    While of course paperbacks are smaller and less durable, I STRONGLY disagree with your overall conclusion here.

    – Hardcovers have ALWAYS had a far higher profit margin than paperbacks, something that long predates the eBook, which made it even more pronounced.

    – Since the very dawn of the Hardcover / Paperback windowing scheme, (sometime around WWII, best I can figure), the publishers have ALWAYS windowed the paperback release. They would’ve released the two formats simultaneously, if they weren’t intentionally using windowing to best monetize their assets.

    In short, getting folks to pay more for temporal proximity with books is not about “now”; it’s about the last 70 years…

    • Well, there have always been paperback originals. In the 1970s, most of the sci-fi I read was paperback only. And you forget another change made in publishing in the last few decades: trade paperbacks. The only started becoming common in the 1980s or so. Before that, almost all paperbacks were the smaller mass market books.

      Some interesting stuff here on the history of paperbacks.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paperback

      And let us not forget that paperbacks were technically the norm for books published as serials in the 19th century. People who wanted full books waited for the later hardcover editions.

  23. All true and interesting points, Kirk. I knew some of them already, and appreciate learning the ones I didn’t know.

    But I’m just talking about the BIG MONEY publishing model, that went almost immediately from the first introduction of mass-market paperback originals to the Hardcover / Paperback windowing scheme…

  24. All true and interesting points, Kirk. I knew some of them already, and appreciate learning the ones I didn’t know.

    But I’m just talking about the BIG MONEY publishing model, that went almost immediately from the first introduction of mass-market paperback originals to the Hardcover / Paperback windowing scheme…

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