Mark Cuban on downloading movies: We're better off with preloaded hard drives sent UPS

Mark Cuban on downloading movies: We're better off with preloaded hard drives sent UPS

Summary: During a recent interview with's Greg Sandoval, Mark Cuban (who, amongst other endeavours, owns the Dallas Mavericks) sees brown trucks as a better way of delivering rich (high def-like) content to end users than the Net.

TOPICS: Hardware

During a recent interview with's Greg Sandoval, Mark Cuban (who, amongst other endeavours, owns the Dallas Mavericks) sees brown trucks as a better way of delivering rich (high def-like) content to end users than the Net.  Said Cuban in the interview:

The reality is that it's cheaper and faster to send (hard drives with terabytes of) content overnight via UPS than it is to download it over the Net. Brown is faster than the Net.

So the smart company will send you hard drives full of content that you will pick and choose from. If it were up to me, DirecTV and the Dish Network would merge. They would buy Netflix and Hollywood Video, and then offer us 10-teraybyte hard drives full of all the content we could dream of that we can get for free or buy at a premium.

The hard drives would either show up at our door ala Netflix, be picked up at the store, ala Hollywood Video, or be pumped to a hard drive connected to our satellite connection (or cable connection) continuously. We then take those drives, plug them into the LCD TV and go movie-crazy.

I guess this all depends on the process of delivery in the context of time sensitivity.  For example, today, if you use RSS to subscribe to podcasts (here's the RSS feed for the Dan and David Show), the content is definitely downloaded but it automagically shows up on your PC and/or in your MP3 player. The point is that you could be connected to the net over a slow modem and it might not matter because you're really not actively clicking on a link and saying "give it to me right now."  Video could be delivered the same way. 

The question, in my mind, is how important is instant gratification?  Regardless of how rich the content is (let's say it is high def video), can we wait some amount of time for some portion of the content to cache locally and then begin playing it while the rest of the download is happening in the background (what many refer to as streaming).  Or, must we have the entire thing, right now and will the infrastructure always be ill-equipped to do what YouTube does, only with far more bandwidth consuming resolution in each frame of video.

Personally speaking, if I can wait for "brown" to deliver the hard drive tomorrow, I'd be more than happy to pick some movies for download today knowing they'd be ready for playback tomorrow.  It's typical timeshifting and, going back to the instant gratification question, I'm having a tough time imagining what can't be delivered in timeshifted fashion over the Net.  Particularly since we will increasingly be looking to view or listen to that content on mobile devices (a more natural end-point of the Net that hard drives are difficult to attach to).

But Mark's a smart guy.  Am I missing something here?

Topic: Hardware

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  • How about Columbia House?

    The monthly "featured" download that you automatically get unless you tell them not to. Get 13 movies for a penny, as long as you buy 3 more at regular prices in the next two years!

    The Streaming Paradigm is the only way to rid ourselves of C.R.A.P. Conveniance will trump pirating cold - so when is the WiMAX Steamroller coming to my town?
    Roger Ramjet
    • Hey Roger--

      What's your reaction to Cuban's comments that even with WiMax streaming, the bandwidth isn't there yet for HD content?
      tic swayback
  • Brown is faster than the Net, now...

    But it doesn't have to be. As long as we're satisfied with 1.5 Mbps downloads as "broadband," we'll be behind those who have faster links.

    These are the highways of the 21st century, and ours are becoming gravel roads.
    • It has to go to at least 14 Mbps

      I pay a premium for the "faster" 3.5 Mbps internet connection. The speeds have to be around 10-14 Mbps to just stream VHS Quality video. DVD Quality Video requires 24 Mbps. A very helpful guide is here

      There was study once that was performed by some university students. Even with a 100 Mbps LAN it took 10 minutes to download a VHS Quality copy of the Superbowl.

      Think about it a second.

      This is why I abought roll out of my seat laughing everytime someone claims that from time to time, until YouTube finds it and takes it down that is, high quality "Pirated" videos on YouTube. The entire notion is absurd.
      Edward Meyers
  • Instant is required.

    I don't know about others, but I and the wife don't "plan" when we watch a movie. To be honest, niether of us are huge TV watchers so what usually happens is one of us asks, what do you want to do this evening and the other says, hey, lets see if there is a good movie on".

    In other words, watching TV is not like setting up an arranged activity. Your mileage may vary.
    • Cuban also claims DRM issues

      The speed (Overnight for HD content with current US Broadband speeds), loss of quality, and DRM is what he claims will prevent Movie downloads from taking off.

      [i] Cuban: You won't--at least not in the "I ask, I get" model. You may be able to download for overnight delivery via the Net. You may be able to download for 60-minute delivery if you are willing to take lesser quality. But before we get to bandwidth, you have to deal with the pirate phobia issues of the movie and TV business.

      They won't let you download without so many limitations, it will piss you off more than its worth. You won't know what you can or can't do with the content, whether you own or are borrowing it and for how long. And you won't know what devices you can or can't use it on. A perfect world, right?

      That said, if you are OK with standard definition, you will be able to go online, find what you want and immediately stream it--which is the exact model that was "Want it now, watch it now" is fine. But it won't be in HD, and it won't be download.

      To download or stream HD takes far too much bandwidth to do it for all content. If I thought 100MB switched, sustainable bandwidth to the home was a reality in my lifetime, I would be all for it. It's not with current or on-the-horizon technology and financial scenarios. [/i]
      Edward Meyers
      • Price is also going to be an issue

        Note that even with all the DRM and limitations placed upon downloaded content, everyone seems to be pricing their downloads at the same level as a much more usable (and re-sellable) DVD. Sorry, an inferior product should cost less, particularly when it costs less to produce (no packaging or shipping and the customer is paying for bandwidth to download it and for blank discs to move it to a tv).
        tic swayback
        • Uncompressed HDTV requirres 1188 Mbps

          [i]Uncompressed HD is "only" 1188 Mbps ? and that's 8-bit "4:2:2."[/i]

          And there in lies the rub.
          Edward Meyers
  • Downloading minus DRM sounds good to me

    I believe with high quality compression, and allowing users to choose the resolution video that best suits their needs, companies could offer news clips, to one hour programs (and even movies), that users could select and have downloaded in a queue (or maybe with some parallelism) to their computers. It wouldn?t be much different from people selecting programs to record throughout the day on their DVRs, and then watching them later. In other words, people would have to wait for their downloads to complete, just like they now have to wait for the shows they programmed to record ? to watch the shows in full. Maybe companies could make downloads similar to how Quicktime does it, so that if e.g. a show is half-way downloaded, people could begin watching the show right away if they so choose.

    Also all of the above needs to be very flexible, so that people can copy shows among their devices, and watch them in ways that best suits them.
    P. Douglas
  • Don't forget the inconvenience

    David, I take it that your point is that you don't see much difference between picking movies on Netflix and waiting a few days for the mail, and picking a movie online and waiting 8 hours for it to download. Not a bad point, really, but also add in the inconvenience of an 8 hour download. How much of your bandwidth does this tie up? Can you do other things on your computer while it's downloading?
    tic swayback
    • Who said anything about a computer?

      Or, at least the computer the way we think about it. Today, my TiVO box takes as long as a movie takes (to play) to record that movie for playback. For all intents and purposes, it's a download (One that sets the bar for download time I might add). And it's not interfering with anything I do with my other "computers." There was a comment earlier about it taking 8 hours to download a movie. At the bare minimum, that must be an 8 hour movie. I start watching the latest episode of Rockstar about 20 minutes into the broadcasts each Tuesday and Wednesday night. The first twenty minutes is already cached up for me and I catch up to the real time broadcast 40 minutes later (without being forced to sit through 20 minutes of commercials, thank you very much). My sense is, since we're doing this already, that the infrastucture is pretty well prepared to deal with the problem and that it just takes some out of the box thinking to creatively apply what already exists (not to mention how your local DSL carrier is hoarding tons of dark fiber right outside your house so it can turn fast movie downloads into a profitable business).

      • 35-40 Mbps

        [i] A typical satellite channel has 36 MHz bandwidth, which may support transmission at up to 35-40 Mbps (assuming delivery to a 0.5m receiving antenna) using Quadrature Phase Shift Keying (QPSK) modulation.[/i]

        This is Mark's point. Your current Sat TV has more bandwidth than what the ISPs are selling, and are likely to offer at a reasonable rate in the near future. To get two or three tuners each displaying a differnt channel you need about 80-120 Mbps of bandwidth, which is not available in the US. Mark claims he doesn't see the 100 Mbps connection into homes in the next 10 years or even his lifetime.

        The infrastructure may be there, but for whatever reason this bandwidth is not for sale to the general public at an afordable rate, hoarding by the telcos so they can roll out their own TV is plausible.
        Edward Meyers
  • As they said in the backup business

    Never underestimate the bandwidth of a station wagon full of tapes.

    Considering the number of hard drives that die horrible deaths, dragging all of their data with them (or at least data that is inaccessable to the normal computer user), the idea of storing a vast library of movies on one is just begging for trouble.

    Quick survey: how many of you have DVD's or VHS's that are over three years old? Now, how many of you upgraded your PC's during that time frame?
    Robert Crocker