Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Amazon on Roku

A while ago, the Roku set-top box quietly upgraded itself, mostly re-arranging menus slightly, but also promising nifty new things to come. A few weeks ago, the other shoe dropped. Amazon is now offering a wide range of movies and TV shows -- much wider, or at least much more recent and popular, than Netflix's "watch instantly" service. As a general rule you can either rent a show for a 24-hour period or "buy" unlimited access (more or less) for about three times the rental cost. Rental costs are comparable to cable pay-per-view rental costs, but the selection is, again, much wider.

It's certainly an interesting development and probably a significant part of the Way of the Future, but there are still some kinks to work out. For example, it's best to check whether the program you can rent from Amazon is also available for free (meaning you've already paid for it) via your regular cable or satellite service or (I recall seeing at least one case) via Netflix on the same box.

Maybe someone could write a plug-in to sort all this out. Except I doubt that a security-conscious, DRM-friendly box like Roku's will be very friendly to plug-ins.

It will also be interesting to see how (or whether) Netflix responds to this. I'd mentioned a possible "premium instant" service before. Thinking it through, another option might be just to emulate the current DVD queue. For $X a month you get access to any N DVDs at one time.

Except, hmm ... that works for physical DVDs because it takes time to send in the old ones and get the new ones in the mail. With the box, you could just "send in" the movie you just finished and pull the next one off the queue. Lather, rinse, repeat and you have access to the whole catalog for the price of one. Maybe it would only let you "return" titles once a day, or whatever?

[Remarkably little has changed since then, except that on-demand from the cable company is much more likely to provide pay-per-view.  If you've "cut the cord", YMMV.  In particular, Netflix's subscription model hasn't changed.  Instead, they've focused on producing their own content, much as HBO did when it was at a similar stage. --D.H. 2015]

No comments: