iTunes And Alternate Endings

A Tumblr post by Truong Nguyen regarding an alternate ending for “I Am Legend” struck a serious chord in me today, and not just because the the ending is a much better one than they showed in the theater. It demonstrated what is still a glaring gap in the iTunes / Netflix-streaming / Amazon Unbox model of content-delivery: no consistent mechanism or even basic ability to handle alternate/augmented content.

With DVDs, you can easily select options to watch a movie with a particular set of criteria, including different audio tracks, subtitles and even alternate endings (or “middles”). There are very straightforward ways to code that into the options on the discs and users know how to cue up what combination they want to view. The best that iTunes could do – given the current distribution model and viewing options – would be to present a small clip as an additional download that contains deleted or extra scenes. There are no user expectations in the current UI – either in iTunes, Front Row or the Apple TV – that indicate one could or should be able to gain access to such content/options.

Your personal feelings on movie integrity aside (some folks despise alternate endings or “director’s cuts”), the lack of a standard in this area will mean that streamers and downloaders are relegated to second-class citizen status when it comes to video content in the same way that we were relegated to low bit-rate MP3’s in the early days of music downloads, which is a completely unacceptable situation.

Apple has an opportunity to take the lead and define how extra content will be bundled and viewed as the industry [quickly] moves to widespread digital distribution. We consumers also need to also step up and demand access to the same or even better content and not settle in and just take what we’re given. In the meantime, it looks like I’ll still be relying on DVDs – old school or (hopefully soon) Blu-Ray – for longer than I had anticipated (if you’ve ever tried to keep a DVD collection pristine with three kids in the house, you know what a losing battle that is).

Give the media bots that sweep the interwebs something to take notice of and drop a note in the comments with your take on the state of digital video content distribution. The more we raise issues, the better chance our voices will be heard.

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