Monday, April 12, 2010

Free+simple beats Paid+complicated - an online video odissey

Last weekend I wanted to catch up on my movies list.

You realize that you live on modern times when you discover that DVD rental stores as as good as gone today. You have to look really hard to find one, and when you do, it will probably be either (a) expensive, niche focused and "artsy" (b) far from where you live or (c) creepy, with a large porn section in the back.

I live very central, so whereas I could find many souvenir shops open and selling I-heart-London T-Shirts, there was no DVD store in sight.

"But this is the 21st century", I thought, "I can certainly solve this problem online". Oh, how wrong I was.

I first tried to sign up for the European equivalent of Netflix, called Lovefilms. I loved Netflix when I lived in California and the prospect of all-you-can-eat movies in the mail was very exciting.

So I filled up the sign up form, selected a plan and was ready to put together my movies list. But then my credit card got rejected. Not one credit card - all of them, three or four, from different banks, shapes, sizes and colors. The reason: the website use one of those security systems that check you billing address, and they only accept UK addresses.

It is possible that Lovefilm have a good reason to do so, but I suspect that the true reason is as simple as saving having a poorly planned payment interface that does not accept non-UK postal codes. Whatever the reason, no Lovefilm for me.

The next obvious option was iTunes. They do actually accept PayPal, but I had another problem: iTunes is like getting married to your computer. Once you open an iTunes account using one specific computer, it is for the rest of your life. It turns out that the computer with my iTunes account had crashed and was in the process of being restored - or else I would lose all my libraries, playlists, purchases, the whole season of Lost. If I opened another iTunes account, my life would be a mess - duplicated sign-ups, redundant libraries, chaos and destruction. So, no iTunes movies for me.

Amazon could be a nice option. Back in the day, they had a nice online rental system called Unbox (since then renamed to something else). I love Amazon and buy even my toilet paper from them if I can, so, eagerly, I went to But - no! The automated geoblocking system caught me - who do you think you are, trying to fool us that you are in the US? - and redirected me to - which doesn't have any movies rental service.

You see, I was trying hard. I had been to three well-known websites, and still could not get my movie fix. Each in their unique way, they made my life complicated - limited payment options, DRM, walled garden systems, geoblocking.

Were I not a law-abiding citizen, I would have simply downloaded whatever movie I wanted to watch from BitTorrent. Or I could have watched it in a streaming website hosted in Croatia. Or I could have found a link and downloaded the file directly from some online storage website. All free. Would that be illegal? Yes. Do most people care? No.

And this is the sad conclusion: people keep on downloading illegal files not only because it's cheaper, but also because it's easier. Users don't want to jump through hoops just to watch a movie.

I know I don't.

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