Studios Launch WheretoWatch Service
I don’t know about you, but I have more channels and streaming options for filmed entertainment than I can possibly use. I don’t do a lot of browsing anymore, which is probably best since in 2013 alone, American consumers legally accessed an estimated 5.7 billion motion picture views and 56 billion TV episode views. Instead of browsing or channel surfing, I search for specific titles, either because I’m in a mood to see a particular work or because I’m doing some sort of research. But no matter what I’m seeking, I have often found it cumbersome to check my various viewing options, wanting of course to prioritize subscription streaming services where I have accounts, then VOD options and prices, and finally disk purchase if need be. For instance, I’m working on two screenplays right now, both of which require viewing some older TV and film material; and searching available, legal options even among the handful of services I currently use, takes a bit of time. And of course a Google search of various titles often yields results of little or no use.
But as of today, the service I’ve personally been waiting for was launched, and it comes to us from those “stiflers of innovation” known as the motion picture industry. Still in its first iteration, WheretoWatch is a multi-platform, web service created by the Motion Picture Association of America where viewers can search by title, director, actors, or writers, and then see on a single screen several of the available options for viewing a particular title. So, if you want to check Netflix, for example, before renting from iTunes, this is a handy way to see your options in one place, including pricing information in case Flixster is cheaper, for instance, than Vudu. And if a film is still in theaters, WheretoWatch aggregates those listings to the site as well, so you don’t have to do a separate search.
I looked up some fairly old and arcane titles, and the database seems to be pretty robust, especially for version 1.0 of the service. Although WheretoWatch is backed by the six major studios represented by the MPAA, the titles in the database are not limited to those owned by the majors. Naturally, the industry hopes to promote legal viewing of all filmed entertainment and recognizes that having over 100 options for access is all well and good, but not very efficient without a search tool designed to do what this service does. WheretoWatch is only available in the US at this time, but there are plans to grow into other markets as well as to continue adding titles and more services to the database. The service is free, is not monetized by advertising, and users are not required to create profiles.
I’ve said before that Americans in particular have no excuse for piracy, but from a broader perspective, I do think the pundits out there who keep saying things like “piracy is just a reaction to the industry’s failure to innovate” should really stop saying that because it rings a more hollow every day. In fact, the whole notion that creative artists and technologists are fundamentally at odds and that this overhyped schism should produce a conclusion that says “creators’ rights stifle innovation” sounds especially ridiculous to filmmakers. At least it should to any filmmakers who know their history.
Cinema began as technological experimentation, which led to new forms of creative expression, which then demanded new technological innovation; and this cycle has been in constant motion ever since Muybridge. There’s a reason, for instance, that both famous and not so famous cinematographers are also inventors of numerous pieces of equipment that have become standard hardware on shoots all over the world. From one end of the supply chain to the other, filmmakers have always worked hand-in-glove with technology innovators. And as I have said in other posts, the ability to stream high-quality motion pictures seamlessly to a home theater is less than five years old. So, if all one did was watch every legally available title, one-by-one without a break, years would pass, and one would never actually finish because more would be produced. And that’s even with a service like WheretoWatch expediting the search process. So, the film industry may not be moving “fast enough” according to the over-caffeinated, roulette-wheel economics that drive Silicon Valley, but it’s moving faster than any of us mortals can actually consume. So, there’s that.
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