I’m sure everyone has heard about Amazon’s Unbox movie download service by now. For the same price as DVDs you can download movies to your computer. But it’s not really the same price. As pointed out in numerous articles and blogs, you’re giving up so much to use Unboxed movies that you’d have to be brain dead to sign up.

For example, you cannot burn and then play Unbox movies in DVD players. Thus, your kids can’t watch them in the car nor can you loan your movies to your friends and family. Of course you give up any rights to resell the movies you no longer want. And under the licence agreement, you have to install any software Amazon wants, Amazon can delete your movie collection any any time for any reason, and of course, Amazon reserves the right to modify the agreement at any time to make it even worse. Although I’m not entirely sure what could be worse than “we can delete your movies anytime we feel like it!”

And Tom Merritt, over at CNet, points out that the Unbox software is constantly phoning home via the internet. But, that shouldn’t be surprising as the licence agreement gives Amazon the right to collect information about you.

So the question has to be asked: Is Hollywood run by idiots? Because this service is certainly going to fail. Or is there some brilliant diabolical plan at work here that we’re not yet aware of?



  1. no one important says:

    Maybe the idea is to set this up to fail in order to prove that “people don’t want to download movies legally” in order to justify the lawsuit business model.

  2. JoaoPT says:

    Downloading movies is a proven concept. Hey, p2p is full of movies.

    But the studios and Mpaa don’t like what they can’t control. Sure, all the attempts at distributing paid content over the net seems that are programmed to fail.
    My view on the subject is that studios, if start to distribute films on the net, need to do so after capitalizing it on the theaters, like the DVD model. The problem of net distribution is the timeframe. We know that every film is online, sometimes even before the openings, as it happens today, but usually with poor camera taped files. With a net distribution scheme, the potential of getting the good h264 copy online is much higher. With these timeframes, is much more difficult for studios to create a hipe around a movie, with the subsequent merchandising cash in. Let’s face it. Going to the multiplex, buy a ticket, buy popcorns, go to Mcdonalds and get a happy meal with toys from the film, and expose people to all those stores selling film related merchandise is a business model. If films start being downloaded, it somewhat diminishes the impact of the film. And with diminished impact they can’t sell more and more on top of it.
    Does everybody still remembers the impact TV had on film? On the 60’s and 70’s Hollywood was at a box office crises. People just wouldn’t go to theaters to see a story, they could seat at home and watch it on the tube. Late 70 they figured out that if people were to be drawn back to theaters they would have to capitalize on the advantages of it. It was the time of the catastrophe movie. Studios perceived that if they want to have people back they would have to bet on the Big Show action packed adventure. And with films like Star Wars, they realized that after film sales were a big business too. The 80’s and 90’s refined the concept. Big, larger than life stories and enough “Xazam” to create a sort of cult that later would be turned into $$$ by way of t-shirts, and caps, and action figures and even Video Games. Today’s multiplex is that model perfected.
    Well if you diminish this, and the net distributed file you can see on the PC or on your home theater, tones down the experience a bit. Hence, no bang, hence no after profits.
    That’s why every model of selling films over the wires is programmed to fail…

  3. Joe says:

    I agree it’s a bad idea but it’s nearly the same deal Apple has with iTunes music (except you can burn mixed CDs). You need iTunes to use it (and iTunes phones home) and you need an iPod to transport (or burn a CD). It too is full of restrictions and you license the songs (no resale value).

  4. moss says:

    Well, joe — I guess, like me, you must not be an iPod owner. Unlike me, I guess you don’t use iTunes.

    I wonder how it is that I’ve been able to burn CD’s and transport tunes w/o an iPod. Maybe I’m using my computer. Think so? Just like most of the people listening to podcasts; but, not on iPods.

    I sure as hell don’t watch Cranky Geeks or dl.tv on a handheld device.

    Plus, one of the things iTunes did 1st and best was hit a price point for legal downloads of singles. Read a little about the history of recorded music and you’ll learn that what built the technology was people acquiring singles — not albums. What built home recording technology was the ability to do your own mix.

  5. Jägermeister says:

    #1 – You’re right on the spot with “people don’t want to download movies legally”. They’ll most likely use it to justify tougher legislation against people who do filesharing.

  6. Greymoon says:

    Time for a new domain suffix – dot CON as in Amazon.con

    Guess Im going to start charging for my personal info, I already do this when asked for telephone number, zip code etc. at various stores that do this kind of data mining. You should see the suprised look I get. I have also had several conversations with assistant managers and managers when the poor cashier didnt know how to handle someone who charges for such information, quite a chuckle.

  7. Mike Voice says:

    3 It too is full of restrictions and you license the songs (no resale value).

    First time I’ve heard that one. Its a small, digital file that costs 99-cents – brand new [as if that made any difference to a digital file] – and is readily available.

    I’ve never bought any CDs or DVDs with an eye toward their resale value… 🙂

    4 Plus, one of the things iTunes did 1st and best was hit a price point for legal downloads of singles.

    Agreed. And 2nd has to be the idea that a lot of people want to “own” the song – and drove the concept of easily removable DRM. And it shows how desperate the content owners are, that they bought into the concept.

    “Removable DRM” has got to rank up there with the classic oxymorons like “Military Intelligence”, and “Jumbo Shrimp”.

  8. David says:

    I think it’s a decent idea. But they have to be nuts to price the movies the way they did. If I could download a movie from their service for $7 or $8, I’d probably be a lot more likely to try it. Media content where there is no packaging or disc present should be cheaper!

  9. SN says:

    “If I could download a movie from their service for $7 or $8, I’d probably be a lot more likely to try it.”

    With the restrictions Amazon is imposing, it’d have to be less than 80 cents. That about how much it costs to rent movies from Netflix and rip them to divx myself.

  10. Beeblebrox says:

    I’ve actually tried this monstrous piece of crap known as Unbox. Thank GOD they offer that $2 rebate (which equates to a free TV show) because if I had actually paid for a movie that I couldn’t even get to PLAY in their stupid proprietary DRM-riddle crap-tacular player, I would have had to go GTA on someone’s noggin.

  11. Uncle Jim says:

    It’s more of or what. They invest $10-20 million into a movie so you can bet they are going to stop anybody they can from cutting them out of their own action.

  12. Odyssey67 says:

    Here’s two other commentaries on this topic:

    Michael Gartenberg:
    http://weblogs.jupiterresearch.com/analysts/gartenberg/archives/017016.html

    Sept 8 – “I figured I’d try to download a vide or two for my flight to SF next week… an old Star Trek episode… Message pops up. You have used all licenses for this file. If you want to watch it on this PC, you need to purchase it again. OK. We’re done… Time to un-install this thing and hope it didn’t screw up my PC in the process. $1.99 wiser. I’ll say it again, we understand DRM is necessary to make the content available but it must be DRM that works and NEVER locks a customer out of their content…”

    Sept 7 – “… the real issue is where will you watch these things? There’s no way to burn content to DVD for playback and unless you have a media center PC or some inclination to hook up your TV to your PC, it’s a pretty much PC only experience…”

    Carl Howe:
    http://www.blackfriarsinc.com/blog/2006/09/amazons-unbox-movie-service-isnt-any.html

    “No discount for all these restrictions. With … restrictions and by reducing the need for … a disk, a case, and supporting materials, you’d think that consumers would be seeing hefty discounts over buying a DVD… Think again. When I shopped for a DVD of “The Matrix” it cost cost $9.88. When I shopped for the same movie on Unbox, it cost … exactly the same. And the DVD I can play in my living room or on any computer in my house, rip to a file that will play on my Video iPod, and even sell to someone else when I’m done with it.”

    I think this Amazon fiasco illustrates what astute people have said from the beginning; that over DRM’ing this venture will kill it in it’s crib. Apple, with prices reportedly being just as high as Amazon’s, might run into the same problem, since it too has danced to these studio’s tune. DRM, specifically TPM chips in all Intel’s stuff, is why I think Apple ‘switched’ to their hardware in the first place – all the better to placate Hollywood & get their content.

    If Jobs has been paying attention though, he must see now that there is no satisfying them. He’s got the most sucessful downlaod business going, has all his new computers with the favored ‘spy chips’ and yet still they froze him out in favor of Amazon. If I were he, I would attack this from the angle of making their own downloaded video files ubiquitous – a ‘master file’, from which variations can be transfered (or wirelessly streamed) to any & all devices Apple makes.

    They need to do something like this – leveraging their hardware advantage to the hilt – in order to bring any value at all to this artificially costly technology. With prices for DVDs so low, and the ability to rip the so easy, it makes no sense at all to pay equivilent prices for digitized (and thus cheap to distribute) downloads, UNLESS the customer can easily move them around (at least within their Apple-ecosystem) without hassle. Want a version for your iPod? No problem – here’s a sub-standard definition file for you. How about your computer? There you go – a version that plays at whatever resolution your laptop/desktop can handle (PPC Macs will probably have some artifical restriction here, as they have no TPM chip). And a full-blown 1080p version will go to, maybe, the soon-to-be-announced Apple vMac HDTV w/HDMI wireless connectivity. Even the mythical iPhone would be included (if they indeed make it).

    Yeah, it’s the same $14.99 as Amazon, but at least you only pay ONCE, own it (an extention of the iTMS music philosophy), and as long as it’s going to an Apple device, iMovie or iTunes will crunch it appropriately on the fly & you’re on your way.

    I’m really hope Gartenberg’s experience indicates why Jobs was froze out by all the studios except Disney – that he was refusing to go along with such a kludge. I hope he has wised-up regarding how foul these studios & their DRM ideas have always been, and is rolling out something like what I just described just to show how it should be done, regardless of the total content disadvantage. As soon as Apple’s slight menu starts outselling Amazon’s smorgasbord, simply b/c you can actually enjoy ‘the meal’ with Apple, it’s a good bet the studios will come crawling to Jobs and do his bidding.

    I also hope against hope that his (expected) success in turn will convince Jobs NOT to over-rely on the Intel TPMs in the future. As Howe said further in his article, reasonable prices for what you’re buying is the best DRM there is.

    Still – with these commentators & now John reporting Amazon’s UnBox problems, my expectations that Apple WILL pull out something truly phenomenal next week have gone up.

  13. Sean says:

    fwiw – I watched the movie, “The Secret,” online, streaming, full screen and stereo sound, for $4.95 on my Mac OS 10.4.7 via Safari and I must say it was a perfectly satisfying experience. I just wanted to watch it and there was no download… it just worked. The company that pulled this off is Vividas Video Technology. (Vividas Group PLC)

  14. OmarTheAlien says:

    I can understand a studio wanting to recoup it’s million $+ investment in a movie, but why do they make so many suckass million dollar movies? And I wouldn’t mind paying a reasonable cost to download a movie, as long as I can do what I want to, within reason, with it when I get it. This includes recording, or copying, the movie on media of my choice, without lease, subscription or any other restriction on my private and personal use.
    Music? Well, I haven’t bought a CD in years, as I tend to roll my own, and when I’m not listening to my stuff there is the massive vinyl, tape and CD collection I bought before it all started sounding the same.

  15. Uncle Jim says:

    The whole thing sounds like a preview of a new world where Netflix is taken over by the UN. All of a sudden we have Hollywood being operated by refugees and no more DVD’s because the packaging creates pollution. We’ll end up with expensive downloads and obsolete DVD burners. Don’t buy a DVD burner, they pollute the environment too. Keep it in your closet. We can replace billions of 3 cent pieces of plastic with air conditioned server farms on old cornfields. Corn is hard on the soil and bad for the environment. You’ll love the synthetic uncorn.

    I’ve researched it. Is there some brilliant diabolical plan at work here that we’re not yet aware of? Certainly.

  16. Mr. H. Fusion says:

    Maybe the idea is to set this up to fail in order to prove that “people don’t want to download movies legally” in order to justify the lawsuit business model.

    Interesting idea. I think, however, that there are enough idiots out there to make this a go. Once Amazon has gone through their teething problems, this just might stand a good chance of catching on.

    Will I ever use it? You have got to be kidding. There are very few movies I would want to watch, let alone pay for with such restrictions. I don’t want to turn my home into an entertainment center, we just do not watch enough TV for that to happen. I sit at my computer long enough without having to sit through a movie.

  17. Sean says:

    I would almost have to agree with #1, cause I can’t imagine anyone at Amazon thought this was going to be a great idea.
    Of course I can’t really agree with #1, because I don’t think Amazon is going to spend millions of dollars of their own money just to prove a stupid point.
    #16 probably has it right, since the vast majority of the market out there aren’t geeks, and they don’t really follow this kind of stuff, and they aren’t going to read the fine print.

  18. doug says:

    the thing that boggles my mind with the conditions placed upon both legally downloaded movies and music is – they are penalizing the people who play by the rules! meanwhile, if you grab stuff off of BitTorrent, not only is it free, but it is without all the spyware and intrusive DRM!

    I mean, talk about perverse incentives – the content providers make it more attractive to do what they say they are fighting because the alternatives they provide suck.

    what they need to realize is that pirated material does not come from their download services, it comes from their boxed disks. therefore, kludging up their downloaded material does exactly nothing to slow down piracy, but rather merely kills whatever incentives there are to participate in legal downloading.

  19. random_chevy says:

    Get a clue Amazon and all, listen up!

    People are impatient. We do not want to watch download progress indicators!

    We want movie portability between devices we own!

    Until home networking is dumb-ass-simple, the movie download is doomed to fail. In order for people to keep buying, we need to be able to sit on the couch, purchase and download using a simple remote control. Will we be able to begin watching the movie right then and there, at our TV? Perhaps setting up an advance purchase download Que over a PC or Mac in advance, and then sitting at the TV and finding a cache of ready-to-view movies, using the remote, would work. This would require putting movies on a downloaded movie storage device. Most people are not network administrators and will not be able to do all this until it is easy to configure.

    Windows media PC’s might work OK, but most of us don’t want an ugly device next to our home theater. How about making them look like home theater units? Or, build standardized docks on future TV’s for downloaded movie storage and built in networking?

    As it is now, the cable or satellite installer takes care of you and me. Will Amazon send an installer to my home for next to free? No? Then the setup and install of the downloaded movie storage device has to be as simple as setting up a stand alone DVD player. Since these are purchased movies, the downloaded movie storage device needs ability for expansion.

    Digital Rights Management should not get in the way. Do like Apple and let me enable several devices with my password. I need the ability to have the movie on multiple enabled devices at the same time. Don’t limit the number of times I can view my download on an enabled device.

    Amazon, your current plan is doomed.

    Apple? Hopefully you have all the bases covered.

  20. Uncle Jim says:

    “I think, however, that there are enough idiots out there to make this a go.” Excellent point made earlier and I might add there are more than enough idiots to make it a profit center for Amazon because we are talking world-wide, so the idiot base isn’t limited to just American idiots. As for me, I’m sticking with the boxed media. Hell, I’m still running a VCR and holding out hope for more channels via UHF and universal wireless TV. Uncable could be the next big thing in home entertainment. Keep the faith and keep the brain entertained!

  21. Steve D says:

    #16: My sentiments exactly. Hollywood has put out mainly crap for years now – mostly the same tired formulae regurgitated. I have an idea: why not charge a reasonable price (especially given the recent quality of films), and lower the threshold for piracy? I realize there will always be those who will compulsively steal, even if the price is pocket change. But $25 for a movie? And why is it we’re still paying $15+ for CDs? Weren’t we promised by the music industry years ago that those prices would drop “once the technology becomes popular”? (Recent music is even more craptastic than the moveis.) The media and packaging – and fair profit – don’t come close to warranting those prices.

  22. Uncle Jim says:

    The entertainment industry is going to try to get all they can. I’m listening to free ZZ Top on FM right now. There was a guy selling replacement windows right before the song. I quit buying CD’s and won’t pay 99 cents for a song download. Lots of people will so it’s big business. The mountain is high and the valley is low, so come on and take a free ride. That’s what is playing now. The DJ is on now saying it’s a great day to be zooming down the highway and you know where to find the tunes.

  23. Chris says:

    It’s not going to fail…simply because people are stupid. If you don’t believe that statement, just look around…people have been getting dumber and dumber for years now (and more self-centered as well, which means the human race is ultimately doomed). People will pay, in spite of the fact that they are getting reamed and that the product is inconvenient, they’ll sign up.

  24. doug says:

    23. I actually agree that there’s a lot of stupid people out there (since I just spent some time stuck in a line behind people buying lottery tickets) but I think that they (like everyone else) would just watch a movie on cable PPV for comparatively cheap, or buy the DVD (about the same price as the unboxed) before they would download something that they have to watch on their PC. And I imagine that most people with multimedia PC’s hooked to their TV’s are savvy enough not to fall for this. I mean – this is for people with a very fast internet connection who also just can’t wait the 2 days for the DVD to arrive.

    It might not fail immediately, but it will probably just stumble along for a while until Amazon quietly kills it.

  25. Joseph says:

    Anyone else having trouble with Amazon deliveries?
    I am real late on a delivery of a book from the USPS, sent a good full week ago…was “estimated delivery” to be here last Thursday.
    I'm worried they may have lost it.
    Amazon did their job and had it out the morning after my order, but the clueless USPS…?
    Anyone one else have trouble?
    Thanks for the feedback..


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