In our increasingly wired world, it seems somewhat "old school" that movie fans must still drive to a video store to rent a flick burned on a piece of plastic, then drive back to return it in time to avoid an overdue fine. Sure, there's pay-per-view on television, but that means waiting for the movie to start, and if you read last week's column, TV-based video on demand is still lacking in selection (especially for anglophones in Quebec). Services such as Zip.ca are handy because they use mail delivery to send DVDs to your door, but you still need to wait for those DVDs to arrive - if what you want is available - and then mail them back again. Sigh.
This is why video-on-demand (VOD) services over the web are so appealing - using the Internet as a quick and convenient distribution medium for downloading a DVD or HD-quality movie onto a hard drive or streaming it to a PC so the movie begins within seconds of clicking on it. Similar to VOD services on television, VOD movies can also be paused, rewound or fast-forwarded.
Sounds good, you're thinking, but you've never downloaded a movie from the Internet?
This is probably because you can't do it in Canada - not legally, that is.
Despite having a higher percentage of broadband users than Americans, we are the poor cousins when it comes to the Internet VOD option. Americans enjoy a wealth of options, including popular services such as iTunes, Movielink, CinemaNow, Vongo and Amazon's Unbox. Heck, even Wal-Mart has its Video Downloads Store, where you can download flicks - such as 300, Wild Hogs and Epic Movie - for a few bucks apiece.
So, what's the hold-up in the Great White North?
"My guess is one of the main reasons why Canadians can't download movies yet is because of our country's high rate of movie piracy," explains Warren Shiau, lead analyst for IT research at the Toronto-based The Strategic Counsel market research firm.
According to the Canadian Motion Picture Distributors Association, approximately a quarter of all pirated movies online come from Canadian theatres, mainly from the Montreal area.
And because downloading music you didn't pay for is not illegal in Canada, Shiau believes we might be more likely to share files with others.
"The stats show that Canadians tend to share music files freely, so (movie) content producers are naturally worried.
"If you're a movie studio and you present these facts to your legal department, they'll say it's a big issue, and so this is overriding their ability to trust us with downloadable movies - even if (downloaded video files) are hard to crack with anti-piracy measures," adds Shiau.
Another reason we lag behind the U.S. when it comes to online movies on demand, believes Shiau, is Canadians are "relatively conservative" when it comes to where we watch movies in the home.
"Even though more than 50 per cent of online Canadians have broadband connections (meaning they can download large files at relatively fast speeds compared to dial-up phone services), the entertainment centre in our households is our TV rather than our PC." says Shiau. "We're typically two to three years behind the U.S. - remember how long they had TiVo before we had PVRs (personal video recorders)."