Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Blinkbox: Why You Should Care

Alrighty, time to step away from giving armchair reviews about movies and do something far more interesting: give an armchair review about a movie site!

If you are on the internet with any regularity, chances are you break the law on a regular basis. And I'm not talking about downloading here. I mean simple streaming, including sites like YouTube. We could go on for days about if or not we the viewer should be held accountable for watching the content offered before us (my view? Probably not), but the real matter at hand here is that as long as there is an internet, there will be ways to view content that we maybe should not be able to sample. And I don't know about you, but I sometimes feel a certain amount of guilt about this.

I don't like being labelled a pirate or thief or whatnot. I share content I have created myself and take full advantage of those innovative few who use the ease of transferring data as a tool for advertising (obvious examples include musicians such as Trent Reznor and Korn. In my ignorance, I only really know about the free music, but I am positive there are so many different mediums out there). All my spare money goes into DVDs, Blu-Rays and CDs. If I like a film, I will let the world know, and vice-versa if I don't. All in all, I am the average consumer and function as such. I enjoy  films/music/art and many corporations provide me with the stimuli. But the internet has thrown a curve-ball into the mix. I'll argue it is nearly impossible not to engage in what is considered illegal copyright infringement for most web surfers. I go by the broad definitions that the trigger-happy RIAA and MPAA seem to go by. I'm not a bad person, nor are the many people that seem to be the targets of the action these bodies. I truly feel I balance what ever wrongness I may do by my purchases and informative word of mouth. To ham-fistedly segue-way into what I want to discuss, there is a new player in town that may be helping to meet me, the modern internet user (who has no intention of ruining lives but is in no way immune to the limitless information/entertainment at my finger tips) and the studios (who may discover a new business model aside from 'sue your client' effective) halfway. This peacemaker is called Blinkbox.

I became familiar with Blinkbox through the ads at the side of my blog (it might only be visible in the UK, but google that shit anyway) and, being the curious moo I am, decided to make sure nothing completely inappropriate was lining up near my typings. Sure enough, this website is essentially an online video store. Here, you can download or stream a variety of films that you can either rent or buy. I'm not sure if there are many British websites offering this at the moment (there MUST be plenty of American ones), but it stands out to me for its lovely little unique selling point: the website offers a plethora of films for free streaming.

Now, there is a catch with this as you may imagine. About every 10 minutes, you are subjected to about 3 advertisements (that seem disproportionately louder than the film you're watching) and the films are only for free for a temporary time (I have only discovered the site over the last few days, but I assume this is true). But I've got to say, this is not exactly an unfair trade off. The site has many films I know for a fact are good, and plenty that are rubbish, but at least I found this out for free! I haven't rented or bought a film yet, but it seems to be an ad-free version of the film for streaming or download. It is DRM-protected, which I will get to in a moment.

If the advert is at the side of my blog, I encourage you to check out Blinkbox, but if not, just go search it out. It is such an interesting site and while perusing it, I got the impression it was designed with actually users in mind, so it has a load of handy features like easily categorizing things and saving films you want to check back on later. As of the moment I am writing this, it also has George A. Romero's DAY OF THE DEAD for free streaming. FREE! ZOMBIES!!! Come on, how is that not the most amazing thing since sliced bread!? So please check it out.

(A quick side not: I am not sure if it is against the rules for me to talk about advertisers on my blog, but I think I am singing enough praise and shooting sunbeams enough for it to only be an advantage. If not, I'd hope someone will politely tell me and I will alter this *hinthint*)

However, this fantastic site that caught my attention so much made me think hard about why sites like this don't rule the roost. The obvious answer is: people will not pay for content. I'll be honest, I find many reasons that this is true and also right, but I'll stay my tongue on that for now. But the website offers free content on a rotation basis, that's good, right? It is, but we live in an age where people can have what they want when they want. But the films here are actually decent pieces, not C-Movie fare I have never heard of. Could a site like this not co-exist with the illegal sites, where it can fill the needs of those who would chose the legal alternative if it was available? Well, they might do. I would. But when I said the site was a bridge between us and them, I should have said that it is an incomplete bridge.

The idea is that the site can offer these films for free because they generate revenue by placing adverts in the film, like television. I thought to myself 'oh ok, I can accept that. Sure, it's all good otherwise'. However, I have abandoned films that have failed to immerse me because of these ads. Normally, I might watch the entire film, even if it's sub par, because it's such a minimal effort on my behalf, but by placing ads in the films, I suddenly feel I am doing work. It's stupid, I know, but it's how I feel. And I think everyone else will too. I loaded a film towards its last act and had to watch about 15 ads before it started, but you know what? I managed that. That didn't bother me. But then the ads within the film happened again. And that bugged me.

I have thought up what I think may be a better mode of operation (and everyone is going to listen to me...). Placing ads intermittently throughout the film made it too much like television, but the beauty of online video is that it is video on DEMAND, as in, when I want it. It is far easier to withstand a larger quantity of ads at the top of a film than it is to watch many ads throughout. I'm not sure if having a bunch of ads around the halfway point would work or not either, but less frequent but longer ad breaks are far easier to maneuver than these 'ad-bombs' we see now. Maybe I'm wrong, but if everyone in the world was like me, this would certainly make the legal streaming content that much more appealing (seeing as the ad advertises it as legal streaming, they know there are people like me out there).

Now about the downloads I mentioned earlier. I haven't yet had a chance to try this, but research (what the...) has shown that a downloaded film is DRM protected, which is basically a way of making sure you can't share the film with everyone and can only play it on the one computer. The prices on the site are quite fair, but I stopped in my tracks when I saw the limits of the DRM. I watch films off my laptop into a monitor, which is fine, but the DRM means that I cannot watch the film off Ally's laptop and monitor at hers. Nor can I make sure I have a backup if my computer hits the skids (as it seems to be doing more and more frequently). The cost of a certain film I was looking at is about the same as the DVD and seeing as there are no special features on the disc, I considered the download. What stopped me is the age-old argument that so many people are throwing around the net at the mo: it wouldn't feel right because I didn't have a physical copy of the film. I was willing to try downloading the film which is a big step for me as I am an avid DVD collector so I salivate over fancy boxes (the same goes for CDs. I have downloaded some music legally, but considerably miss the cases and artwork), but this lack of control over my purchase made me stop.

I guess what I am getting at, in a very long-winded way, is that if I am to give up physically having a film, I should at least still have the same control over it that I would have otherwise. I don't want to be a slave to my entertainment. There are thousands of people committed to making sure this doesn't happen. If businesses don't want to play friendly with us, we have no obligation to them (though there is that guilt, damn it!). And in terms of streaming, the computer is not a television. I can accept banner ads and ads placed with the video, but by mimicking watching a film on the TV, I have completely lost patience as there are so many alternatives.  Blinkbox is brilliant. I think everyone should check it out. I have ripped at its biggest flaws in my eyes, but as I said, it is still a bridge. This site should be encouraged. Maybe an employee will read this and go 'hmm... there are some interesting points here' (probably not, because no one reads my shit!) and they will change and we will be witness to a company that are doing what the others just aren't: thinking about their clients.

Right, that's done! To wrap up, I again cannot say enough good things about the site. Currently, my favourite is that it is showing Day Of The Dead. Easily the darkest of George's zombie films, it is almost the best, in my humble opinion. You are dared watch a film where there are no heroes and everyone seems like a jerk. This is the true end of the world, and it's in splendid Savini gory detail! So, click through to Blinkbox, grab a drink and some nibbles, and enjoy this decayed and monstrous cinematic masterpiece!