Video-on-Demand is really coming of age

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Readers of my blog will know that I am quite the armchair festival fan - avidly following at least Coachella and Glastonbury via live-streaming every year and from the comfort of my lounge. I believe at some stage in the near future, we will be able to view the entire 4-day spectacle via a festival attendee proxy, and be able to witness the whole immersive nature of these events via virtual reality headsets such as Oculus Rift. It would simply be a matter of selecting your POV Avatar Proxy and then logging on as it were - you could even switch Avatars if you get bored with your current one’s choices; or if you paid extra perhaps you could even set the itinerary / schedule ...


An interesting development this year has been the rise of the ’In Cinemas & On Demand’ films - as an example the highly rated ’Two Days, One Night’ which you can now catch at your local art cinema or online at Curzon Home Cinema, Sky Store, BT TV, Google Play etc. - strange that there is no iTunes for this one.


For me it started with ’Veronica Mars the Movie’ which was made available on limited cinema release or via iTunes back in February this year. In fact for independent film makers or more initimate films, it makes perfect sense to be able to view those as on-demand releases. I typically attend the cinema once a week, and love to see visually spectacular films on the big screen - IMAX if it’s worth it. For ’small’ personal dramas, I get exactly the same atmosphere from my very capable home movie system - there is no significant benefit to seeing those kinds of films in the cinema, and several drawbacks in fact. You also have a large number of mobility-challenged individuals for whom it is quite difficult to attend cinemas, equally importantly that most small towns don’t tend to have an independent film / art cinema and those kinds of releases would not be generally accessible to those populations except via on-demand. Nicolas Cage’s latest film ’Joe’ is another example of an ’In Cinemas & On Demand’ film.


I must admit I am slightly adverse to queueing for anything these days, also there has been an increasing trend in these last few years for the typical big release movie playing time to be extended to the range of between 2 and 3 hours. In my youth the typical film was 90 minutes, and had an interval half-way through for toilet breaks etc. - in Icelandic cinemas the intervals are still a feature. Icelandic cinema times used to be 3, 5, 7, 9 and 11 o’clock - I recall once viewing 4 movies in a row in the same cinema - with the current assorted playing times this kind of scenario is quite impossible nowadays.


In UK cinemas though you have a 2-3 hour film length with no intervals, and to make matters worse, a near 20-30 minute prologue of advertising and trailers. Films like Lars Von Trier’s latest with its 4+ hours playing time is just too long for me to sit through at the cinema. The beauty of on-demand is that you start, pause and resume when you want to - at your own convenience. You also get to avoid being ridiculously overcharged for snacks and refreshments.


On-Demand viewing though is not just limited to movies, as Netflix is setting the pace for how television programming should be delivered. If you look at viewing figures for most television series, there is a noticeable decline in audiences as the series goes on - viewers either don’t see the programme enough times to get into the habit, or get distracted by other choices and fall out of the habit. Releasing all episodes in one go like Netflix does means less of that kind of fall-out. I deliberately waited for the final episodes of both series 2 of Utopia and ’The Honourable Woman’ - 2 of the very best things on Britsh TV this year - so I could watch the episodes seamlessly concurrently - on 4OD and iPlayer respectively.


Sporting events have long been the domain of on-demand viewing, yet often come attached with strings and/or prohibitively expensive as one-offs. In most countries around Europe the Premiership is broadcast by terrestrial television, whilst we Brits have to pay quite a lot extra to view live - I’m sure there is more that could be done here to make it easier and more practically affordable for us Brits to view live games at home - of course there is the option of viewing the games at your local pub, but it’s not quite the same really. I’m only really interested in viewing an occasional game, as the Match of the Day highlights are quite serviceable for most occasions.


The final area of on-demand where I believe there is ample potential is in live gigs. I was very grateful for instance that LiveNation in association with Yahoo broadcast Justin Timberlake’s recent Iclelandic gig for free - the stream is still available [here]. I would be quite happy to pay a reasonable amount for attending a live gig from the comfort of my lounge. For instance Kate Bush’s current sold out ’Before The Dawn’ spectacular at the Hammersmith Appollo - all 80,000 tickets sold out back in March in 15 minutes. I do concede that this is a sensitive area for some artists, who want to maintain the special quality / nature of their shows and retain exclusivity to some degree - so I propose that on-demand is only viable for select occasions, and possibly should not be considered for the first few shows in the schedule. For many artists though, live gigs are where they earn the greater part of their income, so extending the catchment area to global streaming would likely make sense in most scenarios.


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