Last night I grabbed a few episodes of Sleeper Cell (Showtime) and Battlestar Galactica (Sci Fi Channel) from the iTunes store to watch on my flight out. I’ve tried watching Galactica a few times and it hasn’t caught yet — this time I’m liking it better, but will save that for another post.
I’ve watched 4 episodes of Sleeper Cell now (of 7 in the first season), and it’s great. Nikhyl thought I’d like it, and I do. Basically chronicles a terrorist sleeper cell in Los Angeles, and an FBI operation to counter it. A lot of folks said it’s like “24”, also known as “Television’s Worst Directed Show,” for the fantastic way that it consistently takes mediocre D list actors and somehow turns them into the equivalent of a high school drama class. We’ll call it the “anti-sorkin”. (As an aside, Sorkin & Schlamme’s “Studio 60” is set for the fall, and I’m incredibly excited about it. With Sports Night and the West Wing as their previous 2 efforts, hard to imagine how even Matthew Perry could screw this one up. I’m pretty sure that Sorkin will turn Perry into a giant star. Giant-er than now.)
Anyway, so Sleeper Cell isn’t 24. It’s a well written, well directed and well acted drama — a little bit melodramatic at times, but excellent, nonetheless.
I’m really of 2 minds on the iTunes video store. On the one hand, it’s just incredibly incredibly easy to grab a show online and watch it on my laptop — and it’s really just perfect for business travel. And on the face of it, the economics are approximately the same as buying the DVDs. (For a 24 episode series like, say, 24, you’d pay $48, which is more or less what it would cost on DVD. Economics for shorter shows like The Shield & Sleeper Cell are a little better — you can see a season for $20 or $30.) But with DVDs, I generally buy them, watch them, then sell them on Amazon for about $20 less, all in. So take the economics out — let’s stipulate that they’re approximately the same — or really somewhere between buying & renting the media. (Although they’re available much earlier, and often before a current season is over.)
3 things, though, bother me about video downloads like this, compared to DVDs:
– Quality. Pretty rotten, really. Boxy. Not unwatchable, but as everyone starts getting used to HDTV, I think it’s going to get tougher & tougher to love these. But that may be sort of like downloadable audio — for a while it was hard to listen to, then it got good enough. So this is a temporary problem.
– DRM. Painful. I think that our idea of ownership of content is going through a pretty radical transformation now. On the plane, I wanted to be able to share the videos that I bought last night with Mike, but of course they’re locked to my iTunes account. So I can do some wacky maneuvers to get him access for a temporary period of time, or else just throw up my hands and let him buy them himself. That doesn’t really line up with my idea of content ownership, or even content rental. Doesn’t seem like I should feel like I’m doing something illegal just to let a friend watch a video that I purchased.
– Permanence. Where do I put all this stuff? Do I care? Now that I own the whole first season of Galactica and have watched it, do I really want to keep the 4 gigabytes on my hard disk? Can my 80 GB laptop drive really afford it?