I wish there were a more natural way to say this, but buying digital content sucks, and for the last couple of months I’ve been getting regular email reminders as to just how bad the situation has gotten. For me, I started realizing the dream of a digital content library was nothing more than the fantasy of overly optimistic movie enthusiast when I lost access to three, Seven Samurai episodes that I purchased on Xbox Live. Then, over a year later, I could no longer access SimCity Deluxe and GoNinja HD because of a lack of iOS 10 support from their developers. And now, I get email reminders that Ultraviolet is shutting down, leaving me scrambling to retain the content that I “bought.” I hate digital content.
The Promise of Digital Lockers
I didn’t ever consider buying digital content until I began witnessing major corporations deploy digital lockers. For those of you aren’t familiar with the concept of a digital locker, it is something mainstream video distributors stumbled upon during their many efforts to stop online piracy. In the world of torrents and peer-to-peer sharing, digital lockers pose a unique threat to enforcing copyright laws by placing the shared files behind a landing page that requires a username and password. This login page approach is in contrast to the usual tactic of search-based, sharing sites that only need users to set up a profile before they start downloading files.
Enforcement on search-based sites is pretty easy to execute. Officers enter bogus profile information, then begin uploading bait files that are tracked throughout the website, flagging those that download the tainted content. The addition of a credentials page made this tactic harder to deploy, as it became challenging for enforcers to acquire usernames and passwords without identifying themselves, locking them out of some of the largest media sharing libraries. While digital lockers largely remain a copyright enforcement nightmare, operating in the gray area where file sharing exists, the idea was co-opted by digital content distributors as their own content management tactic and deployed by services like Ultraviolet.
is was the video industry’s major attempt at creating a digital locker, and also the first time I put my trust in a digital media management system that I thought would be around forever. From the outset, Ultraviolet had all the pedigree of a prize racehorse, major studio and retailer backing, high rate of consumer adoption, and for a brief moment, it looked as if the digital locker was moving to the forefront of legal ways to manage a content library. Everything was great.
The Perfect Management Solution
In an ideal world, these digital media companies would have merely fortified and scaled the digital locker concept they found in the depths of copyright oblivion, adding features like enterprise level encryption and single sign-on, and based on the marketing material, it seemed like that was the plan. Instead, companies produced a final product that was vastly different than its original concept, focusing on Digital Rights Management (DRM) and not content sharing. By concentrating on DRM, these systems became viewed as a way to restrict the movement of multimedia, and not a way to promote the secure, legal sharing of our favorite content.
For example, when Microsoft announced Xbox One, they dedicated a whole segment to how the system would only use digital media and immediately drew the ire of gamers who didn’t understand how they would let friends borrow games if there were no discs. Sony jokingly responded to Microsofts poorly presented value proposition with a video (see video) to capitalize on the backlash, which is super ironic considering they are the defacto kings of overly strict DRM systems and proprietary formats (I’m looking at you MiniDisc, Memory Stick, Betamax, and Universal Media Disc).
Regardless, it doesn’t seem to matter what messaging an organization deploys related to DRM systems, the value proposition never translates to consumer benefits, but instead reignites the fear of corporations adding one more aspect of segmentation to our already fractured digital existence. Maybe that’s the part of purchasing digital content we get, that they don’t.
The over-application of DRM seems to be the icing on the crap cake that we call owning digital media. It’s sitting on top of layers of operating system and hardware variations, processor incompatibilities, screen size variances, and proprietary connections. All-in-all, the reason the digital experience is so horrible for the average consumer can be boiled down to one word – segmentation.
By dividing up the content and features we need among a variety of services, organizations are causing the demise of a system that could have easily benefited everyone, leaving customers to have to choose where to spend the limited about of disposable income they possess. And with customers so thinly spread between a variety of services, none of the services can reach a profitability level that can cover the cost of developing all these exclusive features and content.
The reason I chose to purchase the aforementioned digital content from Microsoft, Apple, and Ultraviolet, respectively, was because it seemed like I would be able to avoid the problems haunting the digital media purchase process by going with well-established players. I was wrong. Developers and companies still give up on platforms, licensing for content expires, and companies go under. If I can’t make digital content purchases work with companies of this size, I’m afraid the whole industry has no hope.
Feel free to let us know how you feel about the situation, or better yet, tell us your own horror story about purchasing digital media.