Selling digital films might have found its saviour in Sky and BT

Dr Hamish McPharlin –

Electronic Sell-Through, or EST for short, has for a long time hinted at a promising future where consumers transition from buying their films on DVD in the store to buying digital copies. Vendors such as iTunes, Google Play, Amazon Instant Video, and Blinkbox have had their virtual shelves fully stocked with all the latest releases for some time, and there seems to be little holding consumers back from diving right into this wondrous future where films don’t get scratched or lost or left behind.

So why hasn’t it happened? Last week, we at Decipher have published the results from Wave 5 of our Mediabug report – a bi-annual tracker of changes in UK media consumption – and our report shows that EST usage still hasn’t broken out of the small niche of users that have been using it over the past few years.

Hamish's graph 3

When we explore the profile of EST buyers, the dilemma becomes a little clearer. Mediabug shows us that EST purchasing is dominant among younger age ranges, and those who don’t use it cite an array of barriers to entry, from price, to difficulty with the process, to concerns about storage and security. One of the fundamental road blocks for EST is that buying, watching and storing a digital film is a quite fiddly process, and older age ranges just don’t seem to be up for the challenge. In addition, despite how it may seem, many UK homes don’t have a setup that allows for a digitally purchased film to be easily played on their TV. Guess what method does, though?  A DVD of course!

It is for this reason that we awaited the results of Mediabug Wave 5 with more than the usual excitement, because this time we were going to see how consumers were reacting to something different. This year, BT and Sky released their own version of EST, with a service that allows their subscribers to browse and buy directly from their TV menu, with the digital film downloading directly onto their set top box. Whilst Mediabug shows usage to be small at this early stage, we found that those who have made the jump and purchased a film were, on average, an older age group than the standard online EST users. Whilst the average age of an online EST buyer is 33, the average age of these new TV EST buyers were 35 (BT) and 37 (Sky).

This rang true for us, as it matched a general industry assumption that TV platforms benefit from a level of trust with older age groups that may not be enjoyed by more recent entrants to the content game. If EST vendors like iTunes and Google Play are struggling to convince older age ranges, Sky and BT might not have quite so much trouble. And on top of that, they offer a service that drops the film right there on the TV set top box, to be enjoyed on the main screen in the home at the click of a button. Sky has gone one further, and posts out a DVD of the film with every EST purchase – another gesture in assisting a hesitant population in transitioning from physical to digital ownership.

With these two well-known companies now in the game, they may be the factor in tipping broad appeal for digital purchase in the right direction.

Note: Mediabug Wave 5 is now available. More information available at:

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