Blockbuster Over?

So sayeth MSNBC.  Well, actually, so sayeth AP, so maybe I shouldn’t link this story… (more on that in my next post).  (Link.  Via Gizmodo, via via via…)

In any event, Blockbuster has apparently disclosed to the SEC that an auditor doesn’t see much future for the company.  Which is somewhat understandable.  Netflix was able to severely undercut Blockbuster pricing in exchange for not being able to spontaneously go get a movie.  Blockbuster’s shipped-DVD service never really caught on, even though they had a good idea with the whole get-it-delivered-return-it-at-the-store-get-a-new-DVD-immediately concept.

Now, a lot of people have already mentioned that Blockbuster going out of business would mean that the days of running out to get a movie may be over.  Countering that argument, though, are those that say “Go to Redbox” or use Netflix’s streaming ability.  And, who knows, maybe Hollywood video will expand to take Blockbuster’s place (yeah, right).

Redbox, though, isn’t a great option, in my opinion.  The few times I’ve tried to use it, there hasn’t been anything I’ve wanted to watch, or–more often–the movie I wanted to watch was already checked out.

Netflix’s streaming option is a questionable replacement, however.  I love the service, and I have made great use of it in the couple of months that I’ve had it.  But it has real limitations.  First, the selection is less than current.  If I had a sudden hankering for Cloverfield, I couldn’t watch it instantly.  Same goes for Kill Bill, Burn After Reading, Wanted, I’m Not There, There Will Be Blood, Slumdog Millionaire, Hellboy II, Body of Lies, The Incredible Hulk, The Dark Knight, or The Midnight Meat Train. (I like the name of that last one…)  What I can watch are Discovery Channel shows (I’ve enjoyed catching up on Extreme Engineering and Myth Busters), some PBS offerings (I highly recommend In Search of Shakespeare), some BBC things (Little Britain is cringingly funny) and some movies (A Clockwork Orange, The Big Tease, Back to the Future, Bottle Rocket, Dr. Strangelove …)  Netflix claims 12,000 options for watching instantly, and that’s good.  And as I’ve said before, watching movies and television as a streaming service is where we’re heading.  There are serious obstacles to the streaming future, however.

First, getting a good stream on Netflix, or Hulu, is dependant on your internet connection.  You need pretty robust–and reliable–speeds to have a satisfactory experience, and I don’t know if I’m the only one having this problem, but my AT&T DSL service oscillates between 5 Mbps and .7Mbps daily.

Second, you need a lot of bandwidth to watch a lot of movies.  With ISPs beginning to rollout monthly bandwidth caps, this will limit your ability to stream content.  For example, AT&T is testing caps in a few markets (so sayeth Gizmodo), and the plan is for there to be tiers of service.  Anything over the cap will be $1 per Gigabyte.  The caps aren’t terrible, but they aren’t overly generous either, ranging from 20 to 150 Gigagbytes per month.  (Other companies do caps as well;  Comcast has a 250 Gigabyte cap, and Time Warner is rolling out a plan in Texas where the top tier of service ($55 a month) is a pathetic 40 Gigabytes per month.  Link: Ars Technica.)  What’s interesting to me about the caps is that I warrant that very few people even know what they use in terms of bandwidth.  Yes, there are tools you can install that will allow you to monitor your usage (and we’ll all probably need to do that) (NetMeter is one I saw mentioned on a forum somewhere; I don’t vouch for its accuracy or safety), but it’s also interesting to me that there seems to be no set answer as to how much bandwidth gets consumed.  Doing a Google search doesn’t help much, and it’s unclear whether a DVD movie, which is, conservatively, 3.5 GB in size is what Netflix is streaming to you.  Does that mean that you will eat up your Time Warner bandwidth just by watching 10 movies on Netflix, with no other browsing?

Or should you calculate your usage with this formula that I found:   4 Megabits per second * 60 secs/min * 60 min/hr = 14,400 Megabits per hour.  Further conversion is required as 1 Megabit  is about 128 kilobyte (Link:  Wikipedia).  14,400 * 128 = 1,843,200 kilobytes per hour.  Which is well about 1.5 Gigabytes per hour.  (Is that right?  Really? You could blow through even your Comcast bandwidth in less than 20 hours?  That doesn’t seem right…)

I guess the point is that its tough to say that people actually know what their bandwidth usage is, and that, just as we’re learning in other areas, bandwidth caps mean ceaseless consumption just won’t be possible in the future.