The Problem with Streaming

 

If you have ever been to my house, you will most definitely see the somewhat large collection of movies that I have on physical media, with 99% of it being Bluray and 0.5% being DVD and the other 0.5% being the newer 4k Bluray discs as I begin to start transitioning my newer purchases to be 4k only. As a huge media consumer and collector, I find it very odd that people are giving up their ability to own things, verses renting them for a limited time. That whole idea leads me into the reason for this article.

Streaming is a really bad idea if you want to own your music, tv shows or movies. This really can apply to any digital media to be honest, so if I missed something, I apologize. We are a society that is slowly going to the way of the content provider’s wishes and paying a subscription for streaming. I know that a lot of people are doing it and it can be seen in this latest article over at Mashable, astutely titled, “Music In the Air“. You can see from a lot of their research, that more and more people are going to the cloud streaming services for their music. This includes Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, Pandora, Tidal and many many others that are available to consumers.

You Don’t Own Your Collection and Can’t Play it Anywhere

Let me give you my argument and the reasons why streaming is very bad for the future of online media. First and most importantly, you don’t actually “own” the music, but you are renting it for a small fee, most likely on a monthly basis. I am using the word “own”, very loosely, in so much as that you can play the media anywhere and any place that can play it. For example, if you purchase the physical movie (which typically comes with a ‘free’ digital copy), it will usually come in one of the three major varieties: DVD, BluRay or 4k BluRay. Most likely with the BluRay and 4k versions, you will get an extra copy via the lower version. So, with 4k, you will get a BluRay and digital and with BluRay, you will typically get a DVD and digital copy. This is not exact for every movie purchase, but is very common in most retailers.

Now that you have this, as long as you have one of these compatible players, you can play this movie anywhere you have a display of some kind, the right cables and electricity. There isn’t any online license checks or validations needed to play the movie. If you are a console gamer, then you mot likely already have one of these players built in as a ‘bonus’ and sometimes, can be cheaper than buying some of the higher end BluRay players that have some of the exact same features via their gaming dashboard. If you are somewhere where the internet doesn’t reach, but have a TV or display and the appropriate player and electricity, then no fear, you can play it!

With streaming services, this is not yet universally available. When you have streaming services, you have to have some sort of internet connection. Though, this is getting harder and harder to find, there are plenty of places in the world that do not have access to ‘landline’ (Cable, DSL or the newer Fiber) internet and may only have OTA (over-the-air) via either their cellular provider, satellite or maybe even long distance WiFi beamed internet. Sometimes, that may even be sparse or limited, depending on the ISP. Audio streaming really doesn’t need a lot of bandwidth and can really be done over ‘3G’ networks and above, but when it comes to video services, you most definitely want ‘4G LTE’ or above, unless you want to live in an utter buffering hell.

Streaming is a Temporary License

Since streaming is typically on a subscription basis, you also could lose access to your playlists or media if the provider decides to no longer carry the content provider (artist or creator) or their licensing deal has expired. If you are a member of the popular Netflix community, you know there are websites and articles that will keep you up to date with with what is coming and going on Netflix.

There have been many stories throughout the years that showcase this issue over and over. There was the very public Taylor Swift issue that was eventually ended. Even more recently, with the advent of Disney+, you will begin to see Disney movies and properties leaving Netflix and other streaming services as well. This can even include the platform specific ‘exclusives’ for video services, for the most part. The ‘exclusives’ doesn’t pertain to audio streaming services as much, but can happen from time to time. It bodes well for a music artist to be on all platforms, unless they are at Taylor Swift levels and can make exclusives for certain streaming services.

Without your internet connection, the selected service cannot validate your payment and allow for certain songs to be played, unless they have some sort of ‘offline’ feature, the way YouTube and Netflix have begun to offer in most recent years. Obviously, this has become less of an issue with more WiFi and cellular connections than we used to have, but if you go camping or hiking in some regions, this may not be possible.

SIDEBAR: Streaming Exclusives Also Hurt the Industry

So this is just a small aside, but the idea of ‘Exclusives’ also hurts the overall streaming market in general. I don’t have the best way to explain it, so I recommend watching this short 5 minute video done by the Verge to explain it (and also explains a few other points of mine):

 

Quality Suffers When You Stream

One of the biggest caveats that you give up when streaming as well is quality. I myself am kind of a quality snob, so it is important to me, but for most at home consumers, they really don’t care or can tell a difference. I will admit that this section will not affect most readers, but for those of us that enjoy the highest quality we can get, having a physical form of the media is always best, or at least the highest quality digital version, like 320Kpbs for MP3 or for real audiophiles, FLAC, which is completely lossless. In the video side of things, this maybe full 1:1 copy of a disc or even a ‘compressed’ .mkv or .mp4 file, but these can take up precious amounts of storage, if you do not have the budget to purchase large amounts of storage.

When you have the physical discs (mostly referring to movies & TV shows), you are getting a higher bit-rate (basically the amount of information able to be converted into something you can see or hear) from the disc and is more consistent while viewing. If you are using a streaming service, this can fluctuate based upon your connection speed and network congestion. With cable services, this can be worse, as it is a shared network (Think Xfinity/Comcast/Turner/Spectrum) versus having a dedicated line like DSL (though really slow in comparison) or Fiber. If you have ever watched a video online, you are well aware of ‘buffering’.  This can be more annoying when on anything less than a 10MB connection with multiple users.

Pirating or ‘Personal Copies’

Now, I won’t completely forget the online ‘underworld’ of pirating. Obviously, I cannot condone or share how to go about pirating copies of your favorite media, but I do know it exists. One of the most famous stories of this, was the early release of digital copies of movies being made available before the studios wanted them available through the Sony hack of 2014. This was the large attack that released copies of ‘The Interview’ to the internet even though the North Koreans didn’t want it released at all. There were more details and information to the overall story, but was still a very publicized story of ‘piracy’ in the mainstream.

I will admit that I learned all of the ‘piracy’ skills I would ever need in the days of Napster and Limewire (and Kazaa as well) and the Gnutella days when I was in middle school and entering high school in 1999. Peer-to-peer sharing has always been an issue with all of the digital distributors, even though iTunes and Apple was really one of the first to make it so convenient, that it is just easier to purchase your digital copy online than it is to take the risk of pirating your ‘copy’. These days, the best way to ‘share’ is via BitTorrent, but this again is meant for legal large file sharing.

I do know that there are legal and really ‘easy’ ways to backup your discs (audio or video) for your own personal collection called ‘ripping. If you were ever an owner of the original iPod and used iTunes, you know how easy it was to drop a CD in your computer and just hit the ‘rip’ button with the selected quality that you wanted (64kbps on up to 320). There are even laws that protect the consumer for ‘ripping’ movies, TV shows and CDs as long as it was for their own personal collections as backups and not being shared online for all to pirate. If you have ever heard of HandBrake, then you know what I am talking about (though these days, I hear MakeMKV is way better).

This is how most of us built up our music collections in the early 2000’s, if you are an iTunes or even WinAMP of old user. As the years went on, we had to keep adapting our music libraries and even started collecting movies with the digital copies that came with DVD and BluRay purchases via either iTunes, Vudu or even UltraViolet throughout the years. I am really happen though, with all those splinters of different companies, they finally brought them all under one ‘roof’ with the latest service, MoviesAnywhere.

Summary

So overall, you can get my general disdain for streaming as the main way of consuming content. If any of your services ever ‘die’ or cease to exist, there will be no servers on the other end to validate you DRM’d content. If you are ever without internet, you can’t get your services to work. If the zombie apocalypse happens, then you no longer have a ‘library’ of movies or music to listen to! Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind having those as backups or as an extra option to watch or listen to my media, but I want to be the controller of this content, instead of some 3rd party service.

This is why large services like Plex Media, Kodi or even VLC exist. This is why there are personal ‘cloud’ devices from Western Digital(WD), Synology or even Drobo that allow you to have local storage libraries full of your media. I am not against digital media, but I just think that we need to own it, so we can play it anywhere and as many times as I want to hear my guilty pleasure of Teenagers, by My Chemical Romance.

Here is a great short video as well, basically explaining all of my thoughts above, since the most recent announcement of Samsung stopping building BluRay players in the future. There are multiple videos out there like this and I am sure are linked to this video, but I think he explains it in the shortest amount of time:

Edited 5/25/19 1:44 PM EST/EDT

Another Great Video explaining it:

Edited 5/28/19 5:32 PM EST/EDT

Even MORE great videos explaining (in part) more on the topic:

-Rusty G

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