On legally acquired media, acquisition of media, and increasing difficulty in consumption.

A prologue:
As fair note, I’ve been working on this post for several months, prior to the most recent state of the world. I am posting it now because this is something I had been working on, and would like to share it. My posts should not ever take away from the importance of state of human rights violations such as what’s happening in ??.

With this said:

I’ve pondered for months over a hardware purchase that I ended up doing while I was writing this article. I wanted a network attached storage device, but want it for more than just backing up files without sending them out of the house.

Particularly: our house has a large DVD collection that has vast swaths of unwatchability. Not because the discs are physically damaged, but instead, because the industry that sells the discs are damaged. Many of the DVDs were purchased by the homeowner when he was overseas and brought back. For a while, he used to have two separate DVD players, one for Region 2 DVDs, and one for Region 1 DVDs.

As you can imagine, this is particularly heinous and daft.

Modern solutions tend to suggest “purchasing” the media again for tenuous rights of streaming to any device, which incurs additional expenses on the side of the user wishing to consume media:

  • Time spent locating a vendor with the media in question, as there is no central, unified library of streamable shows and movies.
  • Cost of re-purchasing the media when it had already been purchased legally once.
  • Data plan usage for those who are on metered internet through their home internet service provider or mobile carrier if that’s their only choice.
  • Time spent hoping that the earlier located vendor won’t up and close shop a few years down the line, rendering the purchase null and void.

Summed up, the user no longer owns direct access to content they wish to consume. We’ve already gone there with games and music, and movies are trying to go deep in that direction as well, which is yet another layer of not good for the consumer, and neglects to acknowledge AGAIN that vast swaths of the USA are underserved or unserved in their entirety by broadband providers. And that’s just my country. This issue exists around the world in varying levels of shtako.

Look at music for a moment: people typically have moved to use services like Spotify, Tidal, or YouTube Music to stream audio to their phones. This means they’re using their mobile carrier’s data plan, for one. Not everyone has or pays for unlimited data. This makes it hard for them to legally consume media in the eyes of the rules as they sit right now.

To make it worse: If an artist leaves a streaming service, or the streaming service ends business, the user suffers the loss of access to content they would have been able to otherwise enjoy, while following The Carrot of Good Behavior. ?

This has happened before: Groove Music, which was Zune at some point prior in its life, effectively shut down a while back. Any music I had acquired through their service has effectively gone away. Because it was wrapped in digital rights management, the user (me) gets the losing end of the deal.

An example that was user-friendly, however, is the late Amie Street. Music was made available in a format that was not encumbered by digital rights management. It eventually became a different service, Songza, which was then acquired by Google Music and shut down, “merged” into their platform. Anything I had purchased on Amie Street, however, was downloadable as MP3 before they ended, and as long as I have good backup hygiene, I can go back to listen to these independent artists.

What makes that last part important is that it’s already downloaded once, long ago. That data usage debt is paid once, as it should be. And, as long as I plug in a cable, or set up my phone to receive wirelessly from in-house, I can push my music over to the phone without burning up my mobile data plan or using the house’s metered data.

Now, take that data usage debt, and grow it. We’re in the age of high definition. 1080 pixels. 1440 pixels. 4K definition. These require increasingly larger files, but our data plans for home internet don’t accommodate well for the increase in data. To wit, someone living in a household with a pair of 4K televisions and access to a streaming service that can deliver in 4K quality can chooch 6 GB of data in one hour of movie watching per television. So if two different movies or shows were watched at the same time in 4K, that’s 12 GB of data per hour gone.

That adds up over time.

Then we’ll point our finger at gaming. Largely gone are the days of buying a video game on a floppy CD DVD or Blu-Ray, if you’re a PC gamer, and this is increasingly true on the newer generation of gaming consoles.

I’m going to intentionally jab one of my favorite games of all time, Forza Horizon 5. I bought it for play prior to its release. The download on PC was about 100 GB, if I remember what came down the pipe. That’s nearly 1/10th of our monthly data allotment. My housemate, who wanted to play the game with me, acquired it for his Xbox One. That was another 80 GB of data allotment consumed right there.

Others in the house are consuming data as well with their movie watching, music streaming, YouTube, TikTok, and other data munchers. This is more noticeable in the early legs of the global pandemic, where we were all scared stiff, staying put, and perhaps even praying it would not be our house hit that day, extra thankful for those who were willing and/or able to travel and bring essentials.

You stayed home. You consumed Netflix, Vudu, Hulu, Spotify, Twitch, whatever you could to maintain some level of entertainment in the absence of being able to go out, about, and be social. Quietly, the finger hold of each of these services tightened their grip on our purse strings. Watch with less (or no) advertisements, pay here! and Gain access to our Premium Original Content, never seen before. First week free! were the siren songs that went in hard, doing their best to keep us in their merciless hold.

We were lonely.

We were scared.

We let them hold us.

But not one of us noticed that in the shadow on the wall as they were holding us, there was a rather pointed shape looming.

It was The Knife. The Knife that they were eager to plunge into our compliant, exposed backs, while we were at our most defenseless. We didn’t have the freedom to go where we wished, having been guided down this road years prior by the pressure of The Stick, and the tempting reward of The Carrot. All you care to eat, for $9.99. $12.99. $15.99.

We lost Blockbuster to this. We lost Hollywood Video to this. We’ve lost so many of the mom and pop movie rental shops to this. I remember my local Albertson’s grocery store having a movie rental room. We used to rent out DVDs. Families would come in, do their shopping, and then bring the kids over to pick up a movie.

We traded the luxury of convenience for the lack of permanence of streaming from someone else’s computer, thousands of miles away. And if ever they should shut down their machine, stop holding a license, or cease to exist… we can no longer watch what we wish to watch.

This should not be the case.

This should not have been allowed to become the case.

But we allowed this, and lo, the taxman cometh. As seemingly inexorable and persistent as death itself, we pay its debt, kilobit by kilobit.

Even our newer media turns against us, with Blu-Ray doing strange, horrible things like locking our optical drives to a specific speed when we’re playing content on our computers. I don’t care if the drive gets a little noisy, but drives have a feature that sacrifices speed to protect you from the sound of a disc spinning.

If you grew up in the 1990s and owned a Sony PlayStation, you know what an optical drive sounds like and it doesn’t bother you.

I also don’t want to require a player to have an internet connection just to spin up a disc to watch something. What happens when the Blu-Ray standard gets supplanted by another choice in the future? Whatever happened to HD-DVD? I’ll tell you: It got killed in a format war against Blu-Ray. When (not if) those drives finally die, anything that someone bought in that format is basically lost to the sands of time.

It’s already happening in the gaming world as Sega Dreamcast console GD-ROM drives fail right and left. I own two machines, of which one has already had a GD-ROM failure. The other is already on its last legs for reading media.

Media preservation is important as we go on, otherwise, we stand to lose large swaths of our earlier digital history to bit rot, hardware failure, and lousy backup hygiene, while losing later swaths to Digital Wrongs Management.

My media center box awaits its last components: a powered OTA antenna, and a script to post-process over the air television. There are shows I’d love to check out, without the requirement to sign up for someone else’s computer, one month at a time.

Maybe others will jump onto this journey, realizing just how busy the industry is, attempting to do wrong masked as “right”.