Is the Internet becoming more like television and the movies – or are movies and TV becoming more like the Internet? The answer is yes.
Both are happening simultaneously as more tools are available that begin to merge the two mediums. This blurring of the lines can be confusing, especially when exploring options on how to watch full length movies online.
PAYING FOR ONLINE VIDEOS AND ENTERTAINMENT
Keeping people entertained is big business. Whether free or paid, the bulk of video on the Internet is predominantly for entertainment. Websites that deliver those types of video are battling for your attention. They want to fill your screens with movies, TV shows, and original content — all while making a profit.
There are a large number of sites that let you watch free videos online, but if your main goal is to watch full length movies on the Internet, odds are you’ll need to pay. Think of it like watching cable TV and subscribing to premium movie channels or video-on-demand.
HOW TELEVISON, MOVIES, AND THE INTERNET MERGE
A common element among the online video service providers is the way they bring streaming video to you. Every conceivable distribution mechanism is being used.
Television is merging with the Internet through built-in broadband connections so videos can be streamed directly to it. This feature is becoming more common. If your TV isn’t Internet-ready, there are several external devices such as TiVo, Boxee, PS3, Roku, and Blu-ray players that can do the job. They essentially act as a tuner. The difference is these devices can detect and access the various paid or free licensed online video services.
Watching full length movies on the Internet certainly aren’t confined to a TV screen. You can, of course, access them through a computer connected to the Internet. More notably, admittance to electronic theaters can now be achieved by using mobile devices such as smartphones, tablets and laptops. It’s still streaming content so a Wi-Fi or a mobile data connection is required. However, some services do permit downloading for viewing on mobile devices while not online. All are subject to the respective usage rules.
Typically, each video service allows a specified number of authorized devices to access the content, which is typically stored in the “Cloud.” There’s nothing magical or mysterious about the Cloud. It isn’t even new. It simply means the content is on a collection of special computers called servers that can be accessed from Internet-enabled devices. The cloud reference really just means you have to be online to access the content or service.
LEADERS OF THE MOVIE PACK – IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER
Providing the technical infrastructure to deliver the goods, acquiring the rights, and keeping track of who’s getting paid is not for small-time players. Virtually all the entertainment conglomerates and Internet companies are involved in some way.
Some of the better-known names familiar to the public are Amazon, Hulu (owned by NBC and News Corp – Fox), Vudu (owned by Wal-Mart), Crackle (owned by Sony), and Netflix.
Originally started delivering DVDs by mail for a monthly fee, Netflix later added the ability to watch full length movies online. The DVD subscribers used to be able to watch TV shows and free movies over the Internet. Netflix now offers a separate online streaming service for $7.99 per month.
The user interface on Netflix is quite easy to use. Like many smart programs, it learns your preferences and suggests movie titles and TV shows that might appeal to you. That said, you cannot download or otherwise save the movie or show, even if you’re using a TiVo as the gateway device to a television. There are no social sharing or email linking features with Netflix.
There are no commercials at the beginning or during movies or TV shows. This is not the case with all the pay-for-play or subscription services, such as Hulu Plus. Other providers offer free full-length movies and TV shows, but advertisements are inserted.
Netflix streaming had been criticized both for not offering more current movies and television programs compared to other services, and for poor streaming quality. The Hollywood studios determine who get what movies when, so Netflix’s lack of more up-to-date titles is likely due to contractual arrangements.
The company claims its streaming quality is getting better and note that some of the problems are due to slow speeds of Internet Service Providers (ISPs). High-definition (HD) content has recently been added using Microsoft Silverlight technology for video.
AMAZON INSTANT VIDEO
Amazon has tiered usage rules for purchasing, renting, and downloading videos. There’s also Prime Instant Viewing that offers premium content, such as full length movies that can be streamed over the Internet. Content can be viewed on computers, tablets, Internet-equipped TVs, and through devices like TiVo, Blu-ray players, Xbox, etc.
Renters have 30 days to start watching a movie and must complete viewing it within a 24-hour period. A typical full length movie rental is $3.99. Purchasing the same movie may cost $14.99, but purchased movies do not have time limits.
Apple’s iTunes movie rental usage rights with the 30-day/24-hour provision are similar. Usage for purchased movies states: “You can transfer to five computers, sync with all the iPods you own, and burn to DVD for data archiving purposes only (not for DVD playback). You can also sync to up to five Apple TVs which don’t count as one of your five computers.”
Amazon also provides the option to download the full length movie, so there’s no need for an Internet connection to watch the movie. The same time limits apply however. All these services have different rights and distribution arrangements with the content providers. Amazon must have a good one, because the recent feature film “Hugo” is on their rental list.
What makes the difference? It’s all about money. There have been estimates that Amazon pays 60% of the fees they collect to the Hollywood studios. That’s supposedly 50% more than Netflix is presumed to be paying. This provides Amazon with the availability of better quality and more recent full length movies and shows.
Vudu prides itself on having more HD movies, particularly in the 1080p format, than any competitor. They also make the point that streaming video titles are available one day after they are released by the studios on DVD, compared to waiting 28 days for Netflix. Vudu also offers some television programs the day after broadcast. They claim Netflix streaming is seven years behind.
Like Amazon, Vudu must also have a good business arrangement with the studios because “Hugo” and “Moneyball” are listed in their catalog of available movies. Again, it comes down to money. You get what you pay for, so I presume Vudu is paying top dollar for its access to quality full length movie titles and HD movies.
Vudu’s pricing structure is based on per-use. You only pay for what you watch. There is no monthly subscription fee. If you watch full length movies on the Internet nightly, this probably isn’t the option for you. Vudu has a nice interface and it’s easy to browse through their catalog.Rent for just $2 for 2 nights is the entry level they advertise, but pricing varies from $.99 to $5.99. A movie’s release date and whether it’s delivered in standard definition, HD, or what Vudu calls HDX all affect the cost. HD and HDX are both 1080p, but HDX is encoded at higher bit rates and adds 7.1 Dolby Digital surround sound. There is a window of time in which you must watch the movie (30-day window to watch a rental movie within 24 hours once started). Vudu calls it an ‘Exhibition Period.’ Purchased content has unlimited viewing, as long as you have an active account and can access the service. No downloading is permitted.
Movies can also be purchased in a range from $4.99 to $24.99. TV shows from recognizable titles like “Glee” and “The Closer” to more obscure programs are broken into collections by season. They run $1.99 to $2.99 per episode, and up to $43.99 for an entire season.
Content can be viewed on computers, tablets, smartphones and Internet-connected TVs. Vudu supports connections with Facebook and Twitter, but only to the extent that you can post ratings of the videos you’ve watched.
I’m running a free Hulu movie, “Chicago,” on a separate screen while writing this. They do have a reasonable selection of free full length movies and TV shows, though many of them came out awhile ago. There are also current TV shows available such as yesterday’s “Colbert Report” and the most recent episode of “Awake.” Hulu offers a large number of films from the acclaimed Criterion Collection.
Although free to watch, there are commercials every so often – approximately every 15- or 20-minutes. A Hulu Plus subscription costs $7.99 a month, which offers access to a broader range of more current movies and television programs. However, “limited advertising” is still included. It also includes support for mobile devices.
Hulu makes it easy to share its movies on Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, reddit, Digg, Delicious, and via email. If you’re posting a movie on a Facebook Wall, anyone can view it there at anytime. For sites that don’t permit the actual video itself, a link back to Hulu is provided.
Another curious point is you can access Crackle through Hulu.
Crackle, owned by Sony, surprisingly is free. Commercials are inserted during full length movies. There’s one at the beginning and others added about every 20-minutes. All movies are listed as free and uncut. Shows are broken into TV and original programming, created exclusively for Crackle.
There are also buttons that will link movies with Facebook and Twitter. In the case of Facebook, the movie is simply inserted on the Wall where it can be played by anyone visiting. For Twitter, it’s a link back to Crackle. Video content cannot be downloaded, but can be embedded to access them through Crackle.
THE FUTURE OF WATCHING FULL MOVIES ON THE INTERNET IS HERE – NOW WE JUST HAVE TO FIGURE IT OUT
Bringing the Internet into the living room, while at the same time making video content mobile has been coming for a long time, and now, it is most definitely here. This is just the start. All the pieces seem to be in position; it’s just a matter of ironing out how the content is distributed among the various services.
This is a big issue. Each wants the best content first. The studios have their own business models centered around maximizing profit in theaters, on DVD and Blu-ray discs, and through online video services. Broadcast and cable television have similar concerns about attracting the most people while making money.
It’s tricky. Everyone is still trying to work out exactly how to squeeze the most amount of revenue out of each iteration of a product’s life. Since this is predominantly new territory and technology continues to rapidly improve, the rules are always changing.
What’s your favorite streaming service provider? Let me know your opinion on the best place to watch full length movies on the Internet by commenting below.