but we DO steal cars

12 September 2005, 7:02 pm

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What you should do.

Where can you add value to your products without increasing your production costs much? I’ve got some specific recommendations.

  • Provide better control over audio.
    I actually do know a few people who have dedicated home theater rooms with acoustically treated walls and properly positioned speakers. But most folks have speakers positioned around existing furniture, and most living spaces have very poor acoustics. The result? People spend a lot of money buying new speakers to go with their surround sound DVD players, and they’re frustrated because it often sounds worse than their old stereo (or even mono) TVs. In particular, the dialogue gets buried under the sound effects and music. Put a new radio-button menu in all your DVDs, with these three buttons:

    • Normal Audio
    • More Dialogue
    • More Music/FX

    (Gamers will like that last one.) What does this achieve? Somebody downloading a bootleg copy now either has to use more bandwidth downloading redundant audio tracks, or run the risk of not getting the one that sounds best in his or her home.

  • Learn from Web usability testing.
    Right now, DVD interfaces are making the exact same mistakes that web and multimedia interfaces were making five or more years ago. Here are a few things to consider:

    • Most users multitask most of the time.
      Most people aren’t just watching you’re content, they’re also eating dinner, knitting, and talking on a cellphone. The more effort they have to put into using the content, the less value it has. Make it easy to mute sound on looping menus. Make it easy to skip past cool-the-first-few-times animations and ads (or just leave them out).
    • Test your interfaces under different contrast and color-balance conditions. Don’t be subtle about indicating what choice is active. (The Office is the worst example I’ve seen yet; its menus are so low-contrast they literally disappear on some TVs.)
    • “Clicking for clicking’s sake” is not rich interactivity.
      For a while there were a lot of games in which you had to try clicking things that didn’t look active, or holding down a key while you clicked. This makes for a repetitive and dull user experience. I have a cheat sheet for my copy of Memento that has instructions like this to get to the bonus feature menu:


      The sequence takes me through a series of screens without any obvious logical flow or sense of movement through a virtual space. That’s not fun. That’s annoying.

      The good news is, the DVD author has all of the interface tools available that were used by the groundbreaking game Myst.

      Creating a genuinely immersive, compelling, interactive environment (as a bonus feature — don’t make the mistake of hiding the primary content) isn’t a technical challenge. It’s an artistic challenge. Rise to it.

    What does this achieve? You can make the complete DVD experience a genuine value-add over just watching the static feature. And there’s nothing to stop you using a file structure designed to befuddle bootleggers, either.

  • Do smart cross-marketing.
    The Buffy the Vampire Slayer DVD slipcases are handsomely designed. I’ve noticed that some customers keep the promotional inserts for related merchandise in the packaging (instead of discarding them) because they share the look and feel of the product line: they look like parts of the package, not ads.

    But they are ads, and not even likely to be effective because they break the viewer’s context (stop watching, find checkbook or wallet). Including sample trading cards or a promotional comic book would have been a much more effective sales tool for the tie-ins, while adding value to the DVD package.

  • Make sure bonuses are really bonuses.

    • By now your viewers have all sat through commentary tracks where the commentators are bored and unengaged, and the novelty of that wears off almost immediately. Go ahead and record a bunch of commentary, and pay the talent. But consider using commentary only for selected scenes if you didn’t get consistently compelling commentary, because dead weight tracks decrease perceived value. And customers are getting wise.
    • The stills gallery is the lamest extra ever –every remote has a pause button. Having a slideshow of someone else’s — not the viewer’s — favorite shots adds almost no value.
  • People like free stuff.
    Nothing too pricey — think stickers, temporary tattoos, fridge magnets, keychains, pens, fold-out posters, or inserts with character profiles, and backstory. Whatever little doodads might appeal to the target audience. Make sure they’re cheap enough that you don’t need to reserve them for a special or limited edition.
  • Forget about copy protection
    Especially forget this Windows Vista nonsense about making people buy new monitors to view premium content. Talk about slitting your throat. Copy protection provides a challenge for the ubergeeks, and makes your products less convenient for law-abiding customers. And soon as an ubergeek cracks it, it’s irrelevant to pirates.

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8 comments on “but we DO steal cars”

  1. 2fs

    As always in your commentary on these issues, your thoughts here are lucid, clever, and compelling. I’d add one suggestion: if your bonus content includes a script (for an episode of a TV show, say - several Buffy and Angel DVDs include those), make sure the damned thing’s legible. DO NOT use a “cool” distressed typewriter face, as if the script ever existed on anyone’s actual beat-up old typewriter. Make the script a nice, large, legible typeface, and hopefully scrollable onscreen (is that possible? I don’t even know). I might be interested in a script bonus under such circumstances - if I have to strain my eyes to read it, and click to “turn the page” every ten seconds, I’m not going to bother.

    And: I’d guess that the “bonus” Wilco and Liz Phair EPs are among the most fileshared out there: something about making people who’ve already paid for something jump through further hoops enrages them enough to encourage them to violate the law. Worse yet, at some point, the bonus EP with YHF was no longer accessible - even to people who entered in the required info.

  2. summervillain


    I’d add one suggestion: if your bonus content includes a script […] make sure the damned thing’s legible. DO NOT use a “cool” distressed typewriter face, as if the script ever existed on anyone’s actual beat-up old typewriter. Make the script a nice, large, legible typeface . . .

    Excellent call, 2fs. Actually I think this is a special case — TV screens are very poorly suited to script-sized chunks of text — it’s not even comfortable for most people to read something that long on a computer monitor. And DVD players completely lack a good interface mechanism for moving around in a large body of text.

    So, Hollywood, if you’re going to include a script, that’s probably a good use of a DVD ROM portion of a disc, rather than trying to make it work in a consumer DVD player. I’ll also make an exception to my no-proprietary-software rule, and suggest PDF would be a good choice — make it easy for people to read it on screen if they really want to, and easy to print it to curl up with away from the computer. Just make sure it’s really obvious in the external packaging that you need a DVD-equipped computer.

    If you want to score extra points with me, you could even include all the DVD ROM content on a separate CD-ROM for not-so-up-to-date-users. (Or at least mail a free CD-ROM version to anyone who sends you a request for one along with their UPC or other proof-of-purchase. Or make it available for download. Make it really free, though — don’t hammer customers with a shipping/handling charge for what they already bought, on top of making them wait 4-6 weeks for your fufillment folks. Provide your privacy policy with any redemption coupon, and don’t automatically subscribe anyone to marketing mailings they haven’t explicitly selected.)

    Obviously, you should license the Acrobat Reader installers from Adobe and put them right on the discs for anyone who doesn’t already have them installed. Thanks.

    Oh, and yeah, despite being a long-term fan of the band and purchaser of the requisite CD, I’ve yet to hear the Wilco EP in question. Such is life.

  3. Flasshe

    Hear hear. This should be required reading… everywhere.

    Let’s not forget about paying for a theater movie and overpriced snacks, and then having to sit through 20 minutes of commercials before the trailers even start. But that’s a whole ‘nother topic. Hollywood… sheesh.

    Speaking of “exclusive content”, here’s something that really bugs me. The iTunes music store has a bonus track for the new New Pornographers album. However, you can’t download it separately. You can only get it if you purchase the whole album from iTunes. What’s up with that? So if you’ve already done your duty for the band and purchased the actual hard CD, you are penalized. You can’t get the one extra tune without paying $10 and purchasing the entire thing again in an inferior format with copy restrictions. Even once you have that track, you’re limited to what you can do with it.

    It’s like there’s no motivation to buy the actual CD, which is maybe what the record company and the band want. Why not have something on the band’s website that lets you download the extra track if you’ve got the CD in your PC’s drive, or something like that? It just infuriates me.

  4. Ezra

    *Bing*. What you said.

    The only thing I’d add is that I’m not sweating this issue. I really believe that the day is coming when people will realize, not only are the “content creators” making it hard for us to enjoy their stuff, but, you know, really, most of it just sucks. It’s not really worth the trouble. I, for one, would rather watch Magical Trevor over and over for two hours than, say, “Must Love Dogs” once. In fact, I have done this. (Why? Because everyone loves Magical Trevor!)

  5. summervillain

    I dunno, I’m just not as sanguine. You and I may not be going to see Must Love Dogs but somehow it grossed over 42M$ without our help (and without video/foreign markets/merchandising in the figures). Most people buy what’s put in front of them, rather than making an effort to find something else, and I’m not sure why I should expect — rather than just hope — that will suddenly change.

    I do think the generations that grow up post-Internet will be more tech-savvy, but they’re not un-foolable, and (so far) considered en masse, they choose paths of lesser resistance. Consider ringtones: there are plenty of freeware tools for converting any clip you want into the appropriate format, and easy-to-follow directions for using ‘em — but folks who won’t spend a buck to download a full song will spend a couple bucks to download a fragment of it.

    I keep thinking the next intrusive piece of tech will be the camel-back-breaker, but they keep doing down the übermaw with only mild grumbling. This program won’t work unless you let it pass arbitrary data over the Internet through backchannels you can’t control? Um, okay. You have to call a software company to reauthorize your application software after you put in one interface card too many? Cool. Hey, it’s an 800 number, so at least it’s on their dime. This CD crashes your computer if you put it in a CD-ROM drive? Well, just don’t put it in the drive. (patient: “Doctor, my arm hurts when I do this.”)

    And yeah, sure, there’s a vocal minority of technophiles that complain about these sorts of things, and some of those boycott certain products, and maybe at some point it becomes a genuine groundswell that affects the powers of commerce. But I think the connected elite tends to over-estimate its importance. Cf the campaign of Howard Dean, frinstance.

    Trevor: cute. Is Mark Bodé involved somehow? (I couldn’t find credits.) The drawing style of Trevor and his desert milieu remind me a bit o’ Cheech Wizard.

  6. Ezra

    But see, the Must Love Dogs example backs up your thesis, and gives reason for sanguinity. If something can gross $42M with nothing more going for it than it just being easy and “there”, if the distribution co.s make it harder, people won’t bother.

    Put another way, if you’re serious that you hope people find something else, you should be *encouraging* Hollywood to be as annoying as possible, and start your own distribution company.

    Re: Trevor, I do not know who’s behind it, other than that they are also behind badgerbadgerbadger.com

  7. 2fs

    Flasshe, thanks for mentioning the New Pornographers dealy. Of course, it’ll probably come out on some comp or other in a year or two (a la A.C. Newman’s “Homemade Bombs in the Afternoon” - which at least you could buy separately on iTunes). But in the meantime: don’t those folks realize that the resentment created in people by such bullshit (I paid $12 for the actual CD - now I’m supposed to pay another $10 just to get one track that I can’t otherwise get, and get a redundant album on top of it?) simply encourages people to do things like, oh say, if by chance they did buy the album at iTunes, de-DRMify it using something like JHymn, and then post the clean mp3 online somewheres? Not that I’d actually suggest anyone do such a thing - I’d be shocked, just shocked - nor that I’d rather pay that person a buck than pay $10 to iTunes for the privilege of getting the one track. Just sayin’…

  8. summervillain


    you should be *encouraging* Hollywood to be as annoying as possible,

    Well, but my whole conceit here was that I had my schmarketing hat on to offer sound advice to Hollywood execs. Even hatless, though, I think draconian intellectual property protection measures are bad news for everybody.


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