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Why the Netflix UK launch is such good news

Welcome debut for video subscription service

So the madness and hype of CES is in full flow. Its impact on the world of tech – and the publications that write about it – is hard to overestimate. Any trade show that’s influential enough to have the mainstream press and a gaggle of high profile popstars and celebrity wrestlers attend is important enough to have us muscling in on the action and ensuring we bring you as much coverage as we can.

But this year, the big story isn’t about a single impactful product launch – arguably, it rarely has been, since both the iPad and iPhone were announced a dedicated Apple press briefings. The keynote was Microsoft boss Steve Ballmer’s CES swansong – Microsoft won’t be there next year; they’re not about specific tech products save a few PC peripherals and the Xbox Kinect, which famously wasn’t unveiled in an HD version at this year’s tech-fest. Windows 8 will be all about a shiny new interface and new ways of getting and using content to play on it. The gadgets are good enough already and Microsoft doesn’t make those anyway.

For once, Microsoft could actually be on the money. It’s not what you’re running it on, but what you’re running that counts. For me, the big announcement at CES wasn’t a globally impactful one; it was the one that informed content-hungry Brits that the Netflix video on demand service was now available to us.

Along with many other tech journalists, I didn’t need telling twice.  A proven platform with a solid catalogue of content - much of which is aimed at a British audience rather than being US-centric - priced such that I can afford to use it and with a slick interface to boot. The list of positives kept on coming. The ability to simultaneously log in to my account on a laptop, smartphone, console or tablet and have my user preferences acknowledged scored another hit.

Better yet, now Netflix is here, that means the video on demand market is ready for the prime time. The same old films and freebies across several competing but expensive services are no longer enough; we don’t want to dip our toes into the murky waters of video on demand; we want a clearly, fairly priced service; perhaps eventually to use it as our primary method of acquiring digital video, much as iTunes has become the de facto download service for music.

With comprehensive video libraries delivered over a secure platform, there should soon be no need for dodgy p2p file sharing sites that lure us in with movie freebies and infest our PCs with malware as their price.

Of course, it’s far from being that straightforward. Were DRM and digital music download services the satisfactory solutions to piracy their proponents assume, we wouldn’t still be writing of the heavyhanded policing policies of ISPs and regulatory bodies. In the US they’ve been enjoying Netflix for the past five years, yet even now STOP SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) privacy campaigners find themselves having to fight against the might of the House of Representatives rather than working with the movie industry to find better, mutually acceptable means of distributing the content we all want to be able to access.

Napster went from bad guy to vanguard of the music streaming subscription model, while Spotify has transitioned seamlessly from ad-supported freebie to sensibly priced save, share and and download service. It’s great to welcome Netflix and other movie on demand services to the fold. Now let’s get realistic about allowing everyone to enjoy it. 

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