I was looking at file sizes of Blu-Ray movies today. The average size of 320 current titles was 27 GB – for just the movie alone. You add in all the extras and what not that usually come with a DVD (deleted scenes, extra content, etc) and the size jumps up to an average of 35 GB per movie.
Looking at Comcast’s proposed threshold of 250 GB before they bill you extra, that translates into viewing just nine Blu-Ray movies before you hit your limit – not to say any other internet activities. Just watch nine movies and you’ve blown your cap for the month.
Right now, people might watch 2-3 movies a week – mostly rented and viewed on a TV, not a computer – along with maybe some HD sports and other HD content as well (concerts, news, TV shows or whatever). You can stream video content to your PC (from Amazon or iTunes for example) but it’s all small format and not portable to your HDTV.
I don’t know about you, but I hate watching movies on my computer – I have a small 42” HDTV and a good 7.1 surround system. If I want to watch a movie, that’s what I use. Screw the PC.
Other current uses of bandwidth might also include streaming a few hours of music, or buying some songs at iTunes or Amazon.
Then there are games – I’ve been downloading games for 2-3 years. Steam works pretty well, and Electronic Arts has their EA Downloader service, and there are others. The games are the same price as in the stores, but for me, downloading is a lot more convenient. For example, I bought two copies of Half-Life 2 the day before it came out – the download on Steam started as soon as it was available at midnight and then I had two copies installed that next morning, before the stores even opened.
Games do take up a lot of bandwidth. It used to be that even the biggest games took up no more than one DVD, but now, you’re seeing more and more games that have multiple DVD’s. Let’s say the average is maybe around 10 GB.
There are also other ways to use mass bandwidth – maybe for example you finally decide to download that new Linux distro you’ve been hearing about.
There are lots of heavy uses for internet bandwidth.
Have you heard about the videophones? Yeah, they’re in the process of arriving right now. Real-time streaming large format (720P) video with a framerate of 30 FPS. You hook a camera up by your HDTV and then when someone calls, you can see realtime video of them on your HDTV (using a picture in a picture). You can watch your streaming soap and talk to Aunt Mabel all at the same time.
Realtime video is very bandwidth hungry – good streaming video will take about 12 mb/s – and that mounts is fast when you have bandwidth caps.
Not to mention movies: Blockbuster and Netflix have already been positioning themselves to offer downloadable movies. The only real holdup right now is bandwidth. As soon as it’s easy and convenient to download/stream movies, the technology will take off.
It’s already taken off overseas: In Korea where they have 100 mb/s connections readily available for around $30 US per month, the killer app is streaming soap operas. They have soaps made specifically for the web.
So a typical user could possibly, in just a few years from now, in one month:
· Watch 12 streaming or downloaded Blu-Ray movies – 324 GB
· Watch 20 hours of other streaming HD content – 270 GB
· Listen to 24 hours of streaming music – 3.5 GB
· Talk on the videophone for five hours (300 minutes) – 26 GB
· Download new software/games/other – 30 GB
Total Bandwidth Used: 653.5 GB per month
So What’s This All Cost?
That’s a lot of bandwidth. If the companies go ahead and institute metered billing, here’s what would it cost:
Comcast – $1.50 @ GB over 250 GB – $604 extra per month
Time-Warner – $1 @ GB over 40 GB - $513 extra per month
Rogers Extreme Plus (Canada) $1.25 @ over 95 GB - $572 extra per month
Surprise, surprise – with costs like that, movie downloads and streaming movies are probably not going to be big sellers.
And that is the whole point of metered billing.
A Changing Business Model
Right now, Comcast and the other cable companies make their bucks primarily by selling content. But if internet bandwidth is un-metered all you can eat, it threatens that business model when things like movie downloads and streaming HD video become possible.
Why? Because out of 100 cable TV channels, how many do you ever actually watch? Maybe 5-6, on a regular basis. What about the other 95 channels? Nada. So basically, you’re paying say $85 a month for maybe 5-6 channels.
What if you could just stream those 5-6 HD channels from the internet? Get your TV a la carte?
Now you’re talking.
Who’s going to pay $85 a month for a bunch of mostly useless stuff you don’t really need when for less money, you can stream only just those programs you actually watch from the internet directly to your HDTV? All for less money.
Cable TV would be dead as door nails post haste. And they know it. Instead of bigtime content providers, they’d be relegated to being just a provider of big dumb pipes. They’d lose all the revenue of content packaging, and instead just charge bandwidth fees. They’d be losing a big chunk of their revenue.
Well, if you’re a cable company, you can’t let that happen.
So you kill off the new business model before it even takes hold. How? By arranging the pricing to make it prohibitive. Easy as pie.
Metered billing will most assuredly make it so movie downloads never take hold. It just wouldn’t be financially feasible. And it may also wipe out other things like videophones, depending on the pricing.
So in one fell swoop, the cable companies wipe out a budding industry that would have benefited consumers greatly – by making content more easily available and encouraging consumer choice (by paying only for what you use) – and at the same time, they institute a new revenue stream previously untapped.
Gotta love it. Capitalism at its finest.
This has got to be stopped at all costs. We’ve got to save the internet. Write your elected representatives now and tell them metered billing is just plain wrong.