Hollywood, We Have Plenty Of Half-Services. It's Time For A Whole One.

half_bakedI was reading over a pitch tonight for a new streaming movie service called Epix HD, when I looked up from my computer to my TV stand. On it, I saw an Apple TV, an Xbox 360, and a cable box. Right there, that is 3 different ways to get streaming movies to my television. And that’s not even mentioning the Netflix service over Xbox Live, and the streaming service that can come right to my TV. That’s 5 ways to get movies within a foot of my TV. It’s madness.

Now, choice is of course a good thing, but the problem is that each of these services don’t really offer much choice. If you want a complete way to get movies over the web, you almost have to have all of these boxes. That’s because the movie studios form partnerships and alliances with various services and not with others. And they have silly rules about who can stream/download what, when, and how. It’s a mess. And Hollywood really needs to sort it out soon, or they are just asking for trouble as broadband continues to improve.

Now, none of this is to say that Epix is bad. It sounds pretty good. They claim to have more than 3,000 titles from Lionsgate, MGM and Paramount at launch. And eventually, they want to tap the full library of over 15,000 movies between the partnering studios. They also claim that Epix will have the largest collection of HD films streaming online. That’s all great, but what they don’t say is that even at 15,000 titles, that’s just a sliver of what’s out there — it’s only movies from those few studios. And, if you want this content in your living room, you’re going to need Verizon FIOS, which only some 2 million people have.

I still find it preposterous that I can walk into a Blockbuster and rent a movie the day it comes out, but cannot do that with all new releases on iTunes and the Xbox 360. Even more perplexing is when studios demand movies be pulled (or made for purchase only) so they can run them on the premium cable channels. Netflix has a great selection of old movies, but has basically no new films. And the HD selections on all of these services are pretty poor.

So while it may sound great that another competitor (Epix) is entering the game, it’s really just another half-effort. I’ll be honest, I’d rather have one service that has everything I want, even if it’s slightly more expensive, then 10 of these half-services. I do not want or need more boxes or pipelines coming into my home just to get content that one of my 5 other boxes doesn’t have because of some backward-thinking licensing agreements.

Of course, while I say all of this, I do not expect it to change anytime soon. Even Apple, which famously bullied the music business into its one-music-store-to-rule-them-all (iTunes), has had a lot of trouble getting the movie studios in line. It’s a crapshoot every week when new movies come out on iTunes whether they’ll be available to rent or only buy (or neither). And the total number of HD downloads — which were unveiled in March — can’t be more than 25 or 30 total, still.

The problem the movie studios face is that while broadband limitations in this country have limited piracy, speed and options are slowly improving. It’s only a matter of time before piracy becomes a large scale issue if Hollywood doesn’t start coming up with some kind, any kind, of comprehensive plan for digital distribution. Obviously, we ran into the piracy problem the previous decade with music, and the lone success to rise up was iTunes. Why? Because it had all the major labels on board and was very consumer-friendly. The current offerings from Hollywood are anything but.

More isn’t always better. Sometimes, it’s just more. Even in Hollywood. Actually, especially in Hollywood.