I’ve written a number of times about so-called “cord-cutting” services in part to counter the charge that such offerings are necessarily “cable killers.” But I also keep looking into this issue because I’m genuinely interested in how the home video business is continuing to develop.
I don’t want to come across like I don’t think that over-the-top video services are great for consumers. I’m a consumer and I love ‘em. So, I wanted to point a few cool things you can see via online video.
Hulu is known primarily for its ability to catch up on the last few episodes of TV series, primarily from broadcast television. But did you know you can also watch movies?
If you like documentaries, there’s Dig!, a profile of the amusing friendship/rivalry between the bands The Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Dandy Warhols, and Big Rig, Doug Pray’s artful look at the world of long-haul truck drivers. If you enjoy Samurai cinema, check out the Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman series (26 films were made from 1962 to 1989, plus a TV series); you can start with The Tale of Zatoichi. For comedy, revisit Mystery Science Theater 3000 or watch An American Werewolf in London for scary laughs.
If you do want to watch TV, you are strongly urged to check out the British series Spaced, with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, plus director Edgar Wright, known from Shaun of the Dead; Jessica Hynes stars with Pegg and the two created the program. Hulu has all the episodes.
I’ve written many times about the assertion that Netflix is a perfect substitute for cable service, which doesn’t make sense. Netflix’s Watch Instantly feature is limited in its offerings, but it has a lot of excellent films tucked away in dark corners.
The Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has recently become available and it’s a great adaptation of the popular book. If you like foreign movies, there’s also Costa-Gavras’ classic thriller Z, Jean Renoir’s 1939 film The Rules of the Game, the soon-to-be-remade vampire film Let the Right One In, and the gritty immigrant drama Entre Nos. For documentaries, there’s the Oscar-winning Man on Wire, The King of Kong (a hilarious look at competitive arcade gamers) and It Might Get Loud (a look at electric guitarists Jimmy Page, The Edge and Jack White).
For TV, you can catch up on all three seasons of Veronica Mars and all the seasons of Lost.
As for pure Internet content, I’ve been feeling really bad lately about not watching more of Felicia Day’s Web series The Guild, a comedy about online gamers, since the bits I’ve seen are so funny. On the other hand, I’ve become a regular viewer of Kevin Pollak’s Chat Show. Pollak has described his show as “Charlie Rose with a sense of humor” and that’s a good way to put it. As I said on my pop culture blog, it’s refreshing to see lengthy meaningful conversation. There are various ways to stream shows like these to your TV, such as through Xbox LIVE, PS3, TiVo, or the forthcoming Boxee Box.
With all these options, why still subscribe to cable? Well, I have an HD set and I like to watch hi-def programming, whether live or through VOD. Much as I enjoy streaming Netflix, the movies just aren’t as crisp and clear. This is also true of the Internet content I watch on my TV.
With these cord-cutting options, my viewing choices are limited. I want to be able to watch news, when it happens, on the big screen. There are a number of cable programs I can’t get online. With my subscription to premium services, I get access to a lot of fairly recent theatrical films.
With my cable service, I’m also getting broadband, which enables me to get all this additional content. Even if I was inclined to “cut the cord,” I’d still need cable to get to the Internet.
With all these new services, I need additional equipment to connect the video to my television (For example, I stream Netflix through my Wii and I use a Bose SoundDock to connect my iPod to the TV). That’s fine, but what about my second TV upstairs?
Bottom line: I find the two to be complementary. They’re both useful, but my cable video service is still of value.
FINAL NOTE: I should point out that I’ve said before that any content producer needs to figure out how to recover productions costs and achieve profitability. I’ve also called attention to the news that Netflix (a distributor) is looking at having to spend more to get access to content and also noted that some video distributors have looked at moving from a free model to a subscription business. And I should note that if cable TV is a niche business, then Internet video is a super niche business.