It wasn't so long ago that movie studios were terrified by the prospect of their precious full length theatrical releases showing up on someone's hard drive. Now at least one studio is installing some of their highest profile properties on the mass storage device for you. In a novel distribution agreement, Paramount Digital Entertainment is pre-loading last summer's blockbuster (and inexcusable passover for an Oscar nom) "Star Trek" onto 500GB FreeAgent Go hard drives from Seagate. The drives come in an ultra-portable format and retail for about $100. The stated aim of the partnership is to encourage and enable the "new era of digital movie collecting" on devices that can be plugged and played on laptops, desktops and TVs.
The promotion is also a tease for the larger project at hand, selling more movies. Also pre-loaded on the drive are 20 more Paramount titles including "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," "Ghost," "Beowulf" and "G.I. Joe." In a hoop-jumping process that may deter some form this model, users first need to go to a dedicated Paramount Web site and register to get an unlock code for "Star Trek." They then can purchase additional unlock codes for other titles on the disc. We are trying to get our hands on one of these well-locked-down "FreeAgents" for ourselves to see just how convoluted the process is. Paramount says that the films will be licensed for use across multiple devices.
At first blush packing movies onto a 500GB hard drive doesn't seem like much of a scalable distribution strategy. How many of these things really get sold? No doubt Paramount is thinking more about encouraging the habit of digital movie collection. Something is going to have to replace those dwindling DVD sales, and if the studio can manufacture a new "collector's" ritual to replace it, then the media maps nicely with the medium here.
But for other types of video, and other types of devices, the Paramount plan is not without its merits and precedents. Many shareware companies of the 1990s and early 2000s made a mint from cutting distribution deals with PC distributors like Dell and HP. The game company few consumers ever heard of but many used, Wild Tangent, built a good part of their business years ago by having their shareware titles bundled into PCs. As the connected devices proliferate, from streaming media boxes to Internet-enabled TVs, let the bundling deals commence. Why shouldn't Web video portals partner with multimedia device manufacturers. Why shouldn't full seasons of "The Legend of Neil" or "Between Two Ferns" with Zach Galifianak be value adds on our USB flash drives? Hey, here's a thought. Why not have branded entertainment like "Easy to Assemble" or "Back on Topps" underwrite the cost of a simple 3GB thumb drive or "sponsor" my next SD memory card purchase? These 2GB of family treasures are brought to you by...