This is the really big news. Regular readers of this column will know I've long felt the move from distributors being at the centre of the content universe to being the creators was inevitable. People don't subscribe to Netflix or Amazon Prime for the sake of it -- they sign up based on the content they can get. Sky traditionally has the best lineup of movies in the UK, particularly when compared to Netflix which has arguably had the best success of any streamer through original dramas, including "House of Cards," "Lilyhammer" and "Orange is the New Black."
Amazon is truly throwing a cat among the pigeons with its commitment to create a dozen new movies this year. As long as they're good, the decision could catch the eye of the movie-watching public who would otherwise tend to not feel tempted away from Sky with its movie channels, box office and on-demand services. The big news could be releasing the movies with just a few weeks of their theatrical release. I've always been perplexed that the studios leave such a huge gap between cinema releases to DVD releases to pay-per-view to general television release. Now that anything beyond the big silver screen is pretty much wrapped up in one service, there need not be a wait of several months before the general public can watch a movie at home.
Let's make no bones about it -- what Netflix has done for drama, Amazon is about to do for movies. The result is going to be a coming together of the post-cinema formats and releases as movies jump from silver screen to streaming in just a few weeks with no need for DVD and pay-per-view, subscription tv and free-to-air tv release windows clouding the media horizon. It's exciting because it truly shows that content was king all along -- even when power appeared to lie in the hands of distributors who never had to make a single show, song or movie to become multimillion enterprises seemingly overnight.
There is, of course, a downside to this new model as Amazon ramps up its content, and it's the equivalent of a format war. People who have chosen Netflix for drama but also subscribe to Sky for its movies are going to have to consider adding Amazon Prime -- another subscription -- to the mix. It's like the classic battle between VHS and Betamax, only it's between walled gardens and we've less freedom than before. Although release windows will narrow, there will be no equivalent of a Blockbuster from whom you can rent just about any movie from the moment it's released on DVD. Instead, consumers are going to have to hedge their bets with one or more streaming/VOD supplier.
On the other point of the day, Vince Cable's point, it's one that is discussed up and down the country regularly, although mainly about sport rather than Netflix and Spotify which he is addressing today. While the average Briton probably doesn't really care whether the French or German Spotify or Netflix has an earlier release of a French or German artist, and vice versa no doubt, they do care about sport. They care about the seemingly crazy situation we have whereby, in particular, Premier League football games can be watched on terrestrial television around the EU, yet in the country where they are taking place, access to games is limited to one game per prescribed kickoff time which is set up to not compete with Saturday 3 pm games.
A pub owner famously challenged Sky's geofencing of Britain by taking her right to transmit a live feed from another EU broadcaster, which she had paid for, into her pub. She won, at first, but lost on appeal. If we're a single market, however, there still has to be a very strong challenge that can be mounted. If we're one market, surely it follows that you can't restrict the movement of goods and services? Presumably this is the main reason behind Sky building up a pan-European service so it can control the majority of premium sports rights across the single market and offer advertisers pan-European opportunities to market brands around those properties.
I'm not holding my breath on the sports rights, or the notion of a single market meaning a single service across the EU because rights holder agreements would need to be torn up. No matter how valid the logic, the devil really would be in the detail of ripping up past contacts.
However, what you can very safely say about 2015 is that we're going to see the equivalent of a format battle between the walled gardens of Netflix, Amazon Prime and Sky and for the first time it's going to be a battle that is not fought over who has the right to distribute what, but also who created and owns each piece of content.