Fairfax recently announced its vehicle for entering into the movie-download market – ANYTIME – which puts it in direct competition with Telstra’s BigPond Movies initiative and ReelTime.

Much of the focus of the discussion about these competiting services has been around the challenges associated with broadband penetration in Australia (in particular, the expense of true, high-speed broadband connectivity and the implications that restrictive download quotas have for takeup rates and revenue targets).

There is a larger issue at play here and it is this: all of these services appear to have taken the view that the movie-download market is a technology play. That is, the extent of the level of innovation inherent in their business models is limited to replacing DVDs with a DRM-protected digital file, so as to save consumers a visit the video store.

In taking such a blinkered view, they have missed a larger opportunity.

Media consumption is an inherently social act. Few people (if any) consume media in a vacuum, and movies are certainly a case in point. Consumers discuss and debate movies. They recommend them to friends (or advise them to steer clear). They discuss plotlines. Rate actor suitability. Compare directorial efforts with other offerings. Rehearse one liners. Integrate movie scenes into stories. Create memories around the movie experience.

The movie experience is used as a social calibration tool. It is not by random chance that most profiling tools in online services (like dating sites and social networks) allow people to reveal their true inner nature by listing their favourite movies and actors. Who and what you like watching speaks volumes about who you are, and sheds considerable light onto other likely tastes and preferences.

Yet not one of the currently available movie-download services has embraced this social aspect of the movie experience. None offer the ability to recommend a movie, or a particular scene to a friend. None have created feature sets that allow true commentary or debate, or socialisation among likeminded viewers. None seem to have actually studied what happens in the average household once a DVD is popped into a player, and then taken advantage of the digital distribution channel to reflect and augment typical consumer experiences with a movie.

The movie-download opportunity isn’t a technology challenge – it is an opportunity to recast the consumer experience.

In response to Fairfax’s launch of ANYTIME, Stephen Langsford, CEO of Quickflix, was quoted in The Australian as saying: “This is an interesting development but it has already been shown that consumers have not warmed to a pure play download model due to the limited availability of high-speed broadband infrastructure and timely content from the Hollywood studios” .

He clearly misses the point. While broadband limits and movie availability is undoubtedly an issue, the real issue holding consumers back is the fact that movie-download services don’t offer a better user-experience. Focus on building better user experiences, rather than solving technology issues, and consumers will beat a path to your door.