Posts Tagged ‘ Wii ’

Will movie rentals see the death of the disc?

Forget Facebook. For my money Netflix is the most sure-fire service for turning technophobes onto the potential of web-based content. In the last four years, Netflix has tripled its subscriber base to 12.3 million despite the availability of movies on iTunes and abundance of free content online.

Count among those new users the respective mothers of my girlfriend and I. Neither has ever embraced using the web for much of anything, but both enthusiastically renewed the gift subscriptions we recently gave them. The appeal for them, as for many in their demographic, is the seemingly endless list of obscure titles unavailable at nearby stores. It’s no wonder the company is held up by bestselling technology author Chris Anderson as a shining example of  the Long Tail, a business model in which companies profit not by just offering the biggest hits, but rather the vast quantity of niche titles that can now be stored and distributed at a relatively miniscule cost.

Yet there’s a gaping inaccuracy in the profile of Netflix as a web-based business, perhaps the same “flaw” that makes it instantly appealing to the boomers reluctant to migrate online. The Netflix model of subscribers sorting, selecting and ordering their titles online is purely digital. But the primary method of delivery — The United States Postal Service — is something out of the 20th century. Or even the 19th.

That’s a problem, given that the postal service is losing billions annually. Any of the fixes being considered by Congress, from postal rate hikes to eliminating Saturday deliveries, would have a severe impact on Netflix’s bottom line.

The solution for Neflix is simple. Instead of mailing out discs, get consumers to stream movies instantly via the web, a process that has virtually zero distribution costs. The company has already tried to do this by offering a number of major titles for instant streaming and selling a special device for around $100 that plays these titles on your TV.

Now the company is making some new moves in this direction. It has recently signed deals with major studios agreeing not to distribute DVDs that have just been released in exchange for getting the rights to instantly stream more titles. Netflix has also put out programs that allow video game console owners to stream movies via their Xbox, Playstation, and as of this past weekend, Wii. I tried out the new Wii program last night — with the excellent dark comedy Big Fan as my choice — and was pleased with the results.

But forget about my tastes. What about my Mom’s? Will the boomer demographic raised on physical products really embrace digital delivery? Or will they flee back to the old days via companies like RedBox and the still-kicking Blockbuster? The result could say a lot about the value of producing information and entertainment in a physical form. Maybe we’re not ready to go all digital all the time just yet.

Bridging the gaming gap

(note: this post is for a short assignment in my Interactive Media Management and Economics course on great ideas in the business of new media)

The Nintendo Wii gaming console passed the three-year mark last November. It didn’t feel like that shopping for one several weeks ago.

Pooling together undesignated Christmas money, I finally had the means to purchase one of the popular machines. But finding one on the shelves, even after three years of constant sales, remained an elusive challenge.

After three-weeks, six stores and plenty of patience, the Wii was found and quickly took up residence in my living room. All of this effort was required for an item that in tech terms was born nearly a generation ago.

Yet even three years in, sales of the Wii have stayed strong. The 67 million units sold are considerably more than any other console still on the market. The top-selling game of 2009 may have been for other systems, but the next four highest sellers were exclusive to the Wii.

This strength comes despite internal hardware considerably less powerful than competitors. Compared to gaming machines from Sony and Microsoft, the Wii has inferior graphics, a poor online component and no HD capability. Game developers are even starting to flee the console, seeing potential elsewhere.

But what the Wii introduced in late 2006 is a simple idea that has permanently changed how we view video games from both a technical and cultural standpoint. It launched the widespread use of a motion-sensitive controller that looks and feels like a TV remote, with technology that detects where the device is pointed and what direction it moves through the air.

Motion-sensitive technology has been around for a while, but it wasn’t until the Wii that the idea of using the technology to control video games entered the marketplace. The very concept of motion had long been at odds with gaming, which was viewed culturally as a passive experience undertaken mostly by socially awkward kids holed up in dark rooms.

No longer. Upon release the Wii immediately sold out of all locations, and it took years before searching for one on retail shelves didn’t resemble hunting a rare species in the wild. The commercial success didn’t come from appealing to the traditional gaming consumer, most of whom dismissed the console for its processing deficiencies compared to the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. Sales came from redefining and expanding the market to include adults, senior citizens, families and other demographic groups who previously had never touched a game. Even 100-year-olds could get into video game bowling when it so closely resembled the real thing.

The brilliance of the idea to introduce motion sensitive technology to the gaming world was that it instantly made the product relatable to the entire public. The line between games and reality blurred to the point that anyone who enjoyed physical activity outside could embrace a form of media previously associated with solitary indoor use.

Nintendo’s competitors have taken notice, with Sony preparing to introduce a motion-sensitive controller and Microsoft poised to launch a controller-free gaming system that reacts to human movements. We’ve seen the commercial staying power of a system that connects the digital to the organic, appealing to those long alienated by the industry. It’s an idea that could take hold in other forms of media that as of now still require a passive audience. The more media takes on an interactive model that requires physical stimulation, the more it breaks down traditional barriers to widespread acceptance.