I know that I’ve been critical of DivX’s (DIVX) efforts to woo Hollywood in the past, but I’ve also got to give them credit for a win when I see one, and I think they knocked it out of the park when it comes to Paramount.
Recently, Paramount announced that they were going to be distributing content on USB sticks. At the time, they didn’t say what format it would be in and even on DivX’s conference call, there was no mention of this realization of their strategic vision, but Electric Pig is reporting that the Paramount movies will in fact be encoded in DivX.
With only 20,000 memory sticks for sale and at a price of approximately $33 US, Paramount is still clearly in the testing phase, but the fact that they choose DivX demonstrates the clear advantage that DivX has over all of their other digital competitors. They have the only real solution for brick and mortar retailers.
If Paramount tried to do this with a proprietary solution, it wouldn’t work because it wouldn’t give them a way to get that movie to the television. They could try to do it with Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), but Apple doesn’t have the same reach to the TV, especially in Europe where this is being launched.
To date, most of my thoughts on DivX’s courtship of Hollywood have centered on the futility of trying to win enough support, so that online retailers could adopt their technology for digital distribution. If you can’t get a Disney (NYSE:DIS) or UMG to license DivX’s format, it makes it tough for someone like Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) or Blockbuster (BBI) to use their codec even with the other 80% of the content owners on board.
The beauty of the USB distribution strategy is that they won’t need 100% industry support in order to move their plans forward. Shelf space is limited as is; all they need is for a single studio to want to take advantage of this and there will be more than enough titles to tempt you with while you are waiting in line at the cash register.
Now I know what many of you are thinking, movies on USB are pretty lame. When Paramount made their announcement, there were more than a few commenters who zinged them for being out of touch with current trends. While there’s no doubt that the world will go digital, I also realize that the major studios aren’t going to abandon the retail partners that deliver the majority of their profits each and every year. It may end up becoming super easy to buy movies straight from your home, but if you have millions of consumers visiting a store each day, you can bet that the studios will want to reach those customers where they are hanging out. The shelf space is too valuable to be abandoned.
DivX on USB also opens up new business models for the studios. Instead of selling three DVDs, they could package all the Godfather films on one stick to justify a higher price tag or they could offer an entire season of television on an 8GB stick instead. If a retailer can sell something for twice the price, they will take smaller margins from the studios for the larger transaction. With the studios under pressure to develop new revenue streams, this will be too tempting for them not to exploit.
There’s no doubt that DVD is moving to Blu-Ray, but DivX memory sticks allow their Hollywood partners to reach consumers who may not have upgraded to high def just yet. With the industry in a state of flux, being able to sell a device that can be read by any computer and over 200 million devices gives DivX broad reach when it comes to the world of disconnected playback.
Paramount may be approaching this market cautiously, but I think people have greatly underestimated the size and the impact that USB films will have. It may not be cutting edge technology, but there are too many powerful companies who need it to succeed for it to fail. At the birth of this industry, it’s encouraging to see Paramount actively supporting their partnership with DivX, instead of just taking a licensing payment and then ignoring what their technology can offer.
USB movies won’t necessarily solve DivX's problems with their shifting business model, but it does underscore the significance of the platform that DivX has built. As much as DivX is threatened by the obsolescence of the DVD, they can also benefit from the format shift. So far, they haven’t done a very good job of managing this transition, but this deal proves that even an old dog can learn new tricks. If retailers start asking for DivX as a weapon against Blockbuster and Netflix, other studios might also understand the benefits of using open and popular technology to make more money.
Author's disclosure: I don't have any position in any of the companies mentioned.