Top 10 Reasons Why Movie Downloads Suck

Click to viewMovie downloads suck. There are lots of reasons why they haven't caught on yet, and we have the Top 10 of them here. Sure, everyone's talking about movie downloads, but in reality hardly anyone is doing anything about them.

The idea of having a limitless selection of every movie ever filmed is compelling, but it's rife with so many gotchas that the majority of movie fans are staying away in droves. To put it into perspective, Ben Fritz at Variety offers a sobering stat: the all-time total number of legal movie downloads in history is less than the first day's sales of the DVD of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest. That really does suck, doesn't it?

Here are the Top 10 reasons why the idea of digital downloads of movies hasn't gained much traction yet:

1. Pricing: Apple's iTunes store charges $14.99 for a new release and $9.99 for an older movie, and Wal-Mart is expected to come close to matching that except for brand-new releases for which it will charge $19.88. That's comparable to the price of a DVD, but with that you get a disc you can hold in your hand, cover art, a tangible item. Plus, that price is a whole lot more than you'd pay to rent a movie at Blockbuster or have one delivered to your mailbox from Netflix.

2. Meager selection of movies: although Wal-Mart promises movie downloads from the "big six" studios (Walt Disney, Warner Brothers, Paramount, Sony, 20th Century Fox and Universal), it still won't be able to match the vast collection of an ordinary video store, at least not for a while. And the iTunes store's selection of films is so slim, it's just pathetic.

3. No computer in the TV room: Most people don't have a computer near the TV, and getting a downloaded movie from one to the other is awkward at best.

4. Quality: As HDTV finally begins to catch on, even ordinary people are becoming accustomed to ultra-high-quality movie viewing, and downloads are still mired in the world of standard definition. Of course, this will change over time, but that's not happening anytime soon.

5. Force of Habit: It's hard to change the habits of John Q. Public, especially when it comes to comfortable routines such as TV watching. Just look at how long it took HDTV to gain any interest whatsoever. Even some techno-geeks we know are inexplicably clinging to standard definition television.

6. What's the diff?: If you can record, say, Mission Impossible 3 via HBO onto your Series 3 TiVo in full quality HDTV, what's the difference between that and downloading the same movie from the iTunes store? Yes, those staggered release dates imposed upon us by the studios make some downloads (and DVD purchases/rentals) more appealing, but many people don't mind waiting a month or two to get a high-definition viewing of a semi-current movie, rather than going through all the gyrations of downloading that same flick.

7. Download Speed: Many broadband connections are not fast enough to download a movie in a reasonable amount of time. And then, let's don't even think about downloading HDTV movies, which will take four times longer to download.

8. Broadband flakiness: Another problem with broadband connections is that many customers are frequently throttled, where the amount of data they're allowed to download is capped after a certain magical number. Broadband providers are trying to choke bandwidth as much as possible, just to be sure their services are profitable. Sure, might think you have "unlimited" Internet service, but it's only unlimited as long as you don't use it much.

9. DRM bullshit: Even if you are able to solve all the problems with downloading movies, there's still gobs of digital rights management slathered onto that data, restricting how and when you can play it back. Nobody but the greedmeisters at the Hollywood studios likes this.

10. Too complicated: Finally, all of that knowledge and computer know-how needed for downloading movies is simply nonexistent in the skill sets of the average movie viewer. They're just not willing to climb the learning curve to get digital data from the PC to the TV screen when they can effortlessly pop in a DVD.

Until these 10 issues are at least halfway resolved, it's going to be a while before digital downloads gain acceptance for mass audiences. And we, the gadget obsessed, aren't much interested in the concept until we can download at least 720p quality movies that are reasonably current. Our prediction? Digital downloads won't catch up with DVD sales and rentals until at least 2010.