A sales rep from Recorded Books came to my library yesterday to give us a demo on a new product they're offering, MyLibraryTV. Essentially, it is a cross between YouTube and Netflix, but for libraries - and, of course, better.
Sound interesting? Read on…
The service is one to which a library would subscribe, and then our patrons would have free and legal access to download television shows and movies to their computer. The catch (well, one of the catches) is that, unlike our audiobook service Overdrive, the downloaded movie files cannot be transferred to other players - as in, you pretty much have to watch it on your computer. They can't be burned to DVD, can't be saved to move to a different computer, and can't me downloaded to a mobile device. The rep did say that there are S-Video PC-to-TV cables available so you can watch the movies on your television (and note that I said PC above - Mac support is questionable).
The service is offered in three tiers. The first is access to a lot of television shows - including author interviews, cooking shows, travel shows, workout programs, etc. (and it was at this point in the demo that the rep referred to Rick Steves as a "heavy-hitter"). Tier two, called "Hollywood Favorites," is access to a bunch of older feature films. Tier three, "Hollywood Hits," includes more recent and popular movies, coinciding with their release to DVD.
Pricing and access is based on each library's circulation. For my library, which has about annual circulation of 500,000, buying the entire package rang up to about $20,000. When that is compared to the money we spend buying (and replacing) DVDs, it seems reasonable, but it's still a lot of money.
Plus, there are access limits. One great, great, great thing about Recorded Books is that they always allow simultaneous usage. With Overdrive, we buy a copy of an audio book, and only one person can download it at a time (which, to me, is counter-intuitive in the digital world). MyLibraryTV, on the other hand, permits as many patrons as needed to be watching the same movie at the same time - no waiting lists, no holds, etc. That's great.
But this product is limited as to how many items can be downloaded per year - something like 15,000 from tier one, 3600 from tier two, and like 1600 from tier three. If your patrons download more frequently than that, the library must pay for additional download access (which, I guess, is like buying extra minutes for a cell phone plan). In addition, some of the checkout rules are complicated - tier one items check out for seven days, and a patron can only have ten at a time. But at tiers two and three, a patron can only check out one item every twenty-four hours, and then have seven days to watch it, but then can only watch it once per checkout and they have twenty-four hours from the time they hit play to finish watching it. And, they can only check out a title once every six months. I think a lot of this is in there to make sure patrons aren't downloading a bunch of movies "just in case they have time to watch it," because each of those unwatched downloads means another patron missed out.
This is still a new product (not launching until January 2007), and we were left with a lot of unanswered questions. Plus, the interface could use some work - there was no search feature, for one thing. But all in all, it is an interesting idea, and I think libraries will be going this way before too long.
During his presentation, the sales rep kept talking about how downloadable video is the way of the future. Many retail companies are getting into the act, such as iTunes and Wal-Mart, and even Blockbuster and Netflix are adding a download services to their existing video rental models.
I'm not sure what these other companies' programs are like, but I can definitely see people using this. I don't think, though, that it'll be widely-used until there is an easy way to move these files around. Watching a movie on a laptop in the airport is great, but I'm not sure people will be too willing to do that at home. And even those s-video cables are limited in how long they can be - not to mention wanting to watch a movie up in your bedroom while your PC is downstairs in the office. Maybe a wireless solution is the answer, or smarter televisions that can access the internet.
In any case, I think there's still too many questions about this particular service for us to sign up with them. Maybe we'll get onboard in the next generation.