Media Distribution plays a key role in how the industry evolves and changes over time, the technology involved allows various creative changes and advancements which allow more ease of access to the end users as well as well as more instant ways to obtain movies & TV shows and get money into the creators hands. Historically the control over this production process has drove the growth of large media companies due to having larger sums of cash to distribute and market this media, making it very limited for up and coming directors, artists, game designers, musicians etc. to get into the industry but over time, new advancements in technology have allowed new distribution methods which we’ll be going over which have enabled more intuative and faster ways of creating and sharing media which have added more to the production process in terms of creativity as well as how media is consumed challenging media distribution companies and creators.
History of Media
In The Beginning:
Through history, Media distribution has changed rapidly, especially recently and shows no signs of slowing, especially during todays trying times with everyone being stuck indoors. I’ll be looking at the evolution of media from VHS, Vinly, Casetts, Books, Betamax to DVD to Blu-ray and now streaming and the changes this has brought to the industry and what these changes have done to media consumption. I will also be looking into the subject of Piracy and how that’s also being changed and tackled in the industry.
In the Beginning, Film started off in the early 1900s being shown in movie theatres. This was the mass way to access movies as they required specialised equipment as well as the right environment to host and display these movies. Back in the 1900s, movies were recorded onto a film reel and this early on were typically short and had no sound to speak of. These were very limited in terms of scope and who could view them as they were limited to very specific locations. Although due to popularity, thousands of theatres were built in the next few years.
Film Outside The Theatre:
The first time film was able to leave the theatre and to a mass market audience was in 1971 thanks to the Sony Developed U-Matic which allowed the playing of Videotapes inside a cassette as opposed to the film reels used in theatres. This introduced videotapes which at the time were 19mm thick and known as “three-quarter” tapes. One big advancement these made at the time were the use of fast-forwarding and rewinding. This was thanks to one of the reels running being able to run anti-clockwise. This would in turn enable easier home viewing as the tape could be rewinded incase the viewers missed something or wanted to re-watch the tape.
Throughout the years, the videotape evolved gaining more efficiency but while still having the limitations of an analogue media format such as lacking image quality, with it being limited to around 250 pixels horizontally and due to the resolution and size limitation, colour was also limited massively, resulting in a poor image, even on the standard of CRT Tv’s. Another huge downfall of VHS and tapes was the durability, being made of plastic and having multiple moving parts meant that wear and tear was a huge problem, with the resulting case being the deterioration over time and the worsening of the image quality due to this. Finally was the easy of use. With a VHS tape in order to skip scenes, go back to a previous scene or rewind, you had to slowly wind it back or forward and sit through the slow process in order to get where you wanted. Despite all these limitations, it was hugely important in the advancements of media, allowing the use of someone’s own media outside of broadcast TV and the theatre.
Between 2000 and 2005 two different formats appeared for media distribution and watching. One being HD DVD and the other being Blu-ray. This was the start of the hi-definition optical disk format war which took place between 2006 & 2008 with Blu-ray coming out on top. This was a way to deliver high quality, high resolution and high bitrate versions of films to consumers and trounced regular DVDs in terms of quality, offering features such as 3D, Dolby Atmos sound, High colour depth and HD support to the home.
In 2007, the company Netflix, known for their popular DVD distribution online, introduced movie streaming. This allowed users to instantly access a handful of shows and movies on their PC for an extremely cheap monthly price. As movies are formatted efficiently and easily, these could easily be delivered as video streams to web browsers and easy to access. from 2008 to 2010, it expanded it’s library and service to the Xbox 360, TV set-top boxes, the PS3, Smart TVs and other internet devices but most importantly the Apple iPad, iPhone and iPod touch, allowing a wide range of people access.
With the money Netflix received, they were able to expand their library through their own “Netflix Originals” by funding creators to make shows for them without the creative restraints off industry giants like Sony. Thanks to this shows like “House of Cards” “Orange is the New Black” “Stranger things” and more came out of it, making Netflix an enticing and well talked about platform as well as taking from the music industry with it’s easy to use subscription service, making piracy unnecessary for a time.
The Take Off of TV
In the meantime, broadcast television was also available starting from the 1920s in very experimental forms and after WW2 an improved version of black-and-white TV became available and was popular in America and Britain. It started off as mainly revolving around influencing the public opinion, acting similarly to newspaper and radio at the time which due to evolutions in technology such as colour, VHS and greater resolutions + affordability, had become a staple of more and more homes and in the 2000s had greatly increased in popularity as well as had a lot more going for it such as broadcast shows, now being more than a way to influence the publics opinions.
Similar to Movies, TV has taken a similar approach, with BBC, CNB, Fox and more making their shows available on their own streaming services as well as some appearing on Netflix and amazon prime. As shows are a straight to TV affair, they’ve primarily either hit one of the major streaming platforms first or have ended up on their channel owners streaming service straight after airing. Netflix has created hugely popular shows, releasing only when a season is complete while other services may release whenever the episode is complete. these streaming advancements have made movies and tv shows easier than ever to access this great content for an exceptional price compared to Blu-Rays while being high quality enough for the average user.
Now we’re in a time where streaming services have taken over, but there’s more and more quality issues due to a lot of Marvel and Warner Brothers content being moved off Netflix to Disney+, Amazon Prime and other services. This causes a lot of fragmentation and confusion for users meaning that piracy might once again become an option. Also with the current Covid19 impact on the various industries, some companies have been trying Direct to Streaming, with “Trolls World Tour” receiving huge success with it earning over $100 million in it’s first week and the recent big budget Scooby Doo movie “Scoob” recently launching, this direct day one rent seems to be a big hit. Although the Scooby Doo movie having issues for renting outside the US seems to be driving up piracy due to it being hard to access, despite being available on so many platforms.
Audio? Rodger Rodger!
Radio introduced the ability of sending radio waves over different band frequencies in order to send a signal for communication. These are waves between 30Hz and 300GHz and are part of what’s known as spectrum. This was the whole idea of radio, communication. from the high ground, through water, earth & even train tracks, it enabled communication. The first radio news program was broadcast in August 31st 1920 with the first college radio station beginning broadcasting on October 14th 1920. In 1947 AT&T (US based mobile telephone service) introduced their mobile service to one hundred towns with it being a rarity due to the high price as well as only three radio channels being available but this introduced a whole new market and use of radio waves which is still used today.
By 1950, virtually every country had adopted a radio broadcasting system, typically operated by the government. commercial radio was also available. In 1955 radio ownership greatly expanded in Japan, the US an EU and in the 1960s expanded even more due to the introduction of inexpensive portable transistor radios which became practically universal around the world.
Radio would be home to Music as well as Radio shows and has always been but though various iteration and evolution, in 1948 we got Vinyl LP records which had grooves with various bumps which were put in by the creator/production studio which allowed for analogue playback at home. This progressed till 1962 with the compact cassette which was another popular medium of music at the time and was cheaper and allowed music to be taken on the go or played in cars, allowing people to listen to something other than the radio.
These introduced a huge change into the industry. User recordings. People could make their own recordings, take songs from other tapes or records and record them onto the tape and do mix tapes. The inexpensive price made this easy to do with the only downside being those similar to a VHS as they lacked in quality, space and rewinding/fast forwarding through songs was difficult. Both these formats evolved and bettered over time until 1978 with the introduction of the Laser-Disk, which was a digital disk engraved with the data and which was read through a laser. This introduced the huge benefit of storage. CDs were able to contain a lot more data and were able to hold high quality audio, even better quality than vinyl. This revolutionised music, making it smaller and even easier to carry while keeping the great audio quality.
The Revolution of the iPod came in 2001, when apple released this small music player, with an astonishingly big at the time, 5GB of storage, allowing for what apple claimed you could put “1,000” songs in your pocket. While a hard drive may be clunky for a portable device and has it’s own problems it was revolutionary. Being able to take your entire music library on the go in a compact device changed the industry. Users would require a mac as they needed iTunes but apple eventually made a release for windows. The iPod would improve and evolve over time, adopting Nand flash storage, as well as getting smaller in size and better battery life.
Although music was mostly distributed through non encrypted file formats such as MP3, FLAC, AFLAC, OGG & WAV which was a container which could be read through any device and it also wasn’t too large, it was easy to distribute online and write onto CD disks for distribution without any loss in quality. this was extremely prevalent with an easy to access piece of software called Napster. Napster acted as an easy to download music client, allowing the users to find any song within minutes and download it. It acted as an early torrent application and left companies scrambling to take it down.
Even after being taken down new alternatives kept popping up such as LimeWire and more. Although on the 7th October 2008 this was all changed thanks to the release of Spotify. Spotify was a music streaming service which made music extremely easy to access on any device through a small monthly fee. It took off due to its ease of use. With all the free piracy apps being taken down and Spotify having all those songs for a small monthly fee as well as providing correct album art, meta-data & tags as well as offering options to download music to the device at a high quality, quickly it took over as the standard.
On the Radio side, nothing drastically changed. Mobile Phones received the ability to connect to radio networks through the use of headphones or earphones. In 2000 the concept of attaching audio and video to an RSS feed was invented. 2005 was the year where this really took off thanks to the release of iTunes which while hosting music also hosted podcasts. At the time podcasts were considered niche but Apple CEO at the time Steve Jobs believed they were more, stating:
Podcasting is the next generation of radio and users can now subscribe to more than 3,000 free podcasts and have each new episode automatically delivered over the internet to their computer and iPodSteve Jobs – 2005
Over time podcasting has grown massively with Apple announcing in 2013 over 1 billion podcast subscribers. Now in 2020, the market has become huge, with Spotify wanting part of the industry. Ads in podcasting were usually static, meaning the ads were inserted during recording. More recently dynamic ads have been added, where ads can be inserted during download, meaning that users downloading episodes from years ago can still receive relevant ads. Also since the introduction of iTunes, apps known as podcatchers have been made which removes the fuss of finding RSS feeds and adding them but instead search various podcast archives for the users.
Let’s A Play!
The videogames industry is one of the most recent industry and has made some of the biggest strides in changes to technology and distribution but which still needs the most work. Started in 1952 as a test on early post war mainframes designed for massive number crunching, calculations & code breaking. In 1952 W. Hignbrotham created “Tennis for Two” on one of these which was a simple 2d tennis simulation. Although it wasn’t until the 1970s where these were taken to the arcades for mass access and commercial application in the form of arcade games. in 1972 the first introduction and generation of the home console was released as the Magnavox Odyssey which could be hooked up to a TV set.
The Gaming industry was massively growing thanks to the arcade and many home consoles with games being distributed through cartridges. The arcade business was especially booming with titles like “Space Invaders” “Asteroids” and others growing in popularity as well as becoming more complex due to hardware innovations. Due to the seemingly massive popularity, lots of companies jumped in hoping to make a quick buck from games but due to technological hurdles such as storage space on the cartridges being limited as well as lack of quality control this lead to the downfall of the industry in 1983, being known as the videogame crash of 1983. This crash nearly destroyed the American Videogame industry at the time. While this seemed like the death of home consoles for now, arcade had massive releases such as Pac-Man, Dragon’s Lair, which made use of laserdiscs to include high quality full motion video, Mario Bros in arcades as well as the impressive Pole Position, The Arcades were doing well.
1985 saw the release of the NES by Nintendo outside of Japan, which included “Super Mario Brothers”. This began the Resurgence of Video Games in the West and brought games never seen before thanks to its processor running at 1.79 MHz its custom PPU and 2kb of onboard RAM. with games ranging from 8kb to 1mb in size. 1989 saw the Gameboy release, with its monochromatic display and ability to play games on the go, enabling it to become the greatest selling handheld ever made.
The 16 bit era saw massive graphic improvements thanks to faster consoles as well as PC enjoying it’s fair taste with games like “DOOM” in 1993 releasing, but it wasn’t until games started to adopt CD ROMs that more improvements in accessibility, technology, scope, design and scale were made. Myst started this trend in 1993 including high quality pre-rendered backgrounds. The Sony PlayStation greatly evolving games in 1995 with it’s use of CD ROMS and increasing power, resulting in huge 3D games to the mass market.
As Hardware got more powerful, Games got bigger and more beautiful, DVDs moved to Blu-rays with the launch of the PS3, PC was moving in a different direction, away from disks. In 1998 valve released their game Half-Life which included a client known as steam, which sole purpose was to act as DRM and updates for the game. It officially released in 2003 as a store for downloading and updating games instead of relying on disks. As for consoles this wouldn’t hit until Xbox Live Arcade in 2005 where it was integrated into the consoles menu, allowing for smaller titles to be downloaded on the console. Over time the size increased and more and more games became available to download.
This created the Indie Game Movement, as smaller, independent developers were allowed an easy way to publish their games to the big consoles and have players pay and download them. This allowed the creation of new studios as well as allowed the developers full creative control without having to appeal to a mass market, creating games like 2012s Fez, Minecraft, Terraria and more Hit’s to reach the store and reach a mass market. The opening of these marketplaces on consoles and PCs also allowed for game Demos, which acted as short slices of the game to allow the player to gain a feel without paying for the game and possibility regretting their purchase.
One of the biggest Advantages of downloading and online stores was updates, DLC and patching. Developers could release a game and if their players found an issue or the online matches had an exploit, the developers could patch and fix it, which was extremely useful when games such as COD and Halo were very popular online. Games could also get additional paid content created after launch such as extra levels. The storage speed advantages of Internal storage eventually took over in the 8th generation of consoles with games either fully or partially being installed on the Hard-Drive with sometimes the disk only being used for verification of ownership allowing for massive worlds, large & high resolution worlds and assets and much more.
In 2009 a streaming service known as OnLive was announced, later being launched in 2010. This was a game streaming service, allowing users to have their games run from a computer on a server and broadcast to the user over the internet. Although this was set up to fail in the start due to it’s high price tag for a technology which didn’t function well especially with the internet speeds available in 2010 as well as the games still needing purchased individually. In August 2012, OnLive suddenly laid off it’s entire staff, having a quick death to the company.
The gaming industry has constantly tried to catch up with the Movie and Music industry with their streaming services, giving the companies complete control and leaving the user no ownership of their games but offering some benefits such as playing high, graphically demanding games on the go, on a phone or less capable PC or laptop. This opens up the doors to many people who just can’t afford a console or high end PC and want a good experience but it relies on a good internet connection which is becoming more and more common.
A lot of streaming platforms have launched since OnLives attempts back from 2010 to 2012 but none have managed the success that the Music & Movie industry has. PlayStation now attempts to bring game streaming of PS3 games to the PS4 with very poor results even on a good connection, with other services having their own limitations such as Project X cloud only being 720p or NVidia’s game streaming requiring the user to wait to play a game. Steam also provides one but is limited to local networks only.
With the release of Google Stadia this might all be improving, with it releasing in 2019 at a Pro Tier but just recently receiving a free bundle, It might be the way future for game streaming as the internet requirements are extremely modest, it only requires a web browser or android phone and it’s game selection already being quite impressive. This opens gaming up to a lot more people who don’t have the powerful hardware to run these games and with WiFi improving and 5G, can only get better.
Let’s Read Into It
Books has been a hugely physical media and has been the longest one out of them all but it’s also been the one with the least change. Starting off as ink on paper which was hand written, with the earliest recordings being 2400 with Papyrus scrolls to the first printed book in 868 AD, which used a block of wood with characters carved into it with ink which was placed onto a block of wood to create a print on paper. Over time the process got easier with mechanical printers although in 1985 we got our first taste of the early audiobook with the first books on CDs.
It wasn’t until 1989 when the internet came around that books could hit the internet but this wasn’t widely popular. Up until 1995, books were primarily bought in stores, rented or taken out from a library or shared person to person, but one man changed this with the launch of Amazon.com. This site made by Jeff Bezos, was the very first online bookseller, offering a wide choice of books to buy online. The idea was to remove the limit offered by traditional book stores.
This turned out to be a huge overnight success due to it taking losses for the first 4-5 years. This revolutionised the way books were sold and obtained as people no longer had to travel to a bookstore and could potentially access hundreds more books than they could have before. in the early 2000s, eBooks were starting to take off but this could never really take off due to no standards or protection, meaning the books could be shared and pirated easily.
In 2007 this all changed thanks to the launch of the Amazon Kindle. Books didn’t evolve much from their initial concept, only how they were obtained, with scanning of books becoming easier and the amazon kindle popularising eBooks as well as the standardization off book distribution as ePub and PDF with the kindle store acting as the DRM. The revolution of the Kindle and other eBook readers meant people could carry a small, light, portable tablet and carry thousands off books with them on the go instead of having to carry heavy books with them, also reducing the use of paper. Although, despite all this, physical paper-backed books act as a popular reading method for those who enjoy holding the book and turning the pages and the ownership of a physical copy.
Now Books are moving towards Audiobooks, with Amazons own audiobook service Audible becoming hugely popular due to it’s mass advertising and offering the ability to listen to books while doing other tasks such as cooking, exercise, gaming and more. Audiobooks also offer unique extras such as some being read by certain authors and having slowdown options, abilities to easily select chapters as well as being drastically cheaper than buying physical copies and it’s including free books monthly for Amazon Prime members leaving new people the opportunity to try it for free.