Warner Archive Instant- a huge leap backwards for online video?

Warner Instant Archive offers access to the Warner Bros back catalogue for US$9.99 per month.Who will pay to watch Superman reruns from the 1950s?
Nanjing Night Net

Online video is a fragmented mess in Australia but at least we’re slowly making progress. Freeview’s long-promised multi-channel Australian Catch Up TV service never materialised, but iTunes has a lot to offer and Quickflix is maturing. Meanwhile the network-centric Catch Up TV services such as the ABC’s iView and Seven’s Plus7 are going from strength to strength, although there’s still room for improvement.

While the online video situation is slowly improving in Australia, the US-centric Hulu and Netflix are still seen by many people as the gold standard. It’s not that hard to bypass geoblocking to access them from Australia, although you might be underwhelmed by what you find. What’s really disturbing is that content is slowly disappearing from Netflix as the content owners lock it away in their own services, a trend that’s likely to have a long-term impact on Australia’s online video offerings.

Last month Warner Bros launched Warner Instant Archive — an online video service letting you watch Warner Bros classic movies and TV shows stretching from the 1920s to the 1990s. It’s a US-only service although you can tap into it from Australia using many of the usual geo-dodging tricks (although the Hola plugin for Chrome doesn’t work). Warner Bros seriously expects you to pay $US9.99 per month for access to Warner Instant Archive, more than you’d pay for a Netflix or HuluPlus subscription. In return you only get access to about 200 titles at launch, although you’re unlikely to find much worth watching unless you grew up in the 1940s and 50s — not exactly a key demographic for online video service. Even these Baby Boomers would probably find more worth watching on Netflix.

It’s hard to see how Warner Archive Instant will find success when its most exciting offerings are black and white reruns of The Adventures of Superman and 77 Sunset Strip. You won’t even find Warner Bros cartoon classics such as Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. Warner Instant Archive really seems like a desperate and even arrogant move by an old world giant looking to cash in on the internet age but failing to understand the market.

Warner Archive Instant may well flop, and few are likely to mourn its passing, but the real concern is that Warner Bros is trying to go direct and eliminate middlemen content aggregators such as Netflix. More than 2000 movies from Warner Bros, MGM and Universal are about to disappear from Netflix due to changes in rights agreements. UPDATE: Warner Bros has clarified that the content disappearing from Netflix is due to an expired deal with Epix, rather than a specific push to add more content to Warner Archive Instant. So the trend may not be as blatant as it first appeared, but it doesn’t change the fact that content continues to disappear from Netflix while movie houses such as Warner Bros seem to think people will happily pay more for Warner Archive Instant access than for access to the entire Netflix library.

The whole point of Netflix in the US, and Quickflix in Australia, is that they put a wealth of content in one spot — making it easier to pay for movies and TV shows rather than steal them. By giving people what they want at a reasonable price, these kinds of subscription services are proving to be a key weapon in the fight against piracy. If online video offerings continue to fragment, it’s hard to see many people wanting to hand over $US9.99 each month to a dozen different movie houses. At this point you may as well be paying for cable TV, or else cutting out the middlemen yourself and just downloading it all via BitTorrent.

There’s talk of Netflix coming to Australia in the next year or two, which will really shake up the local market. Meanwhile lets hope that US services like Warner Archive Instant are a spectacular failure and the movie houses go crawling back to Netflix, so when Netflix gets here there’s still something worth watching.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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