Sunday, May 03, 2015

Increasing Queens

Dr. Thornburg (Laureate Education, 2014a; Laureate Education, 2014b) presents increasing returns and Red Queens as two forces that influence the adoption and distribution of technology. The former reference the idea that, if undisturbed, a technology that is leading the market will increasingly lead the market, while a technology that is losing share, will increasingly loose more share. The later refers to the idea of two technologies existing in relative balance “running” as fast as they can to keep up with each other’s developments and innovations. The competition between DVDs and on-demand video can be expressed in these forces.

Increasing returns

Legal on-demand video started small as it was constrained by the limitations of internet bandwidth. However, as home capacities increased, the door to this technology opened wide. Prior to that, DVDs and Blu-Ray media held the market, whether it was rentals or purchases. Even though streaming quality started lower DVD, it was much more convenient than driving to a rental stored to get a video.
Now, as services like Vudu, Netflix, and Amazon Prime bring streaming to near Blu-ray quality, renting physical media has nearly disappeared. Stores like Blockbuster have all but closed their doors. This is a case of increasing returns. Because, even though the quality is not quite up to the standard as the physical media, the on-demand video is more convenient and portable across multiple devices. Its reach continues to expand, while the ability to rent physical media continues to decrease. I have not bought a new DVD in years, but I have converted or purchased dozens to instant and streaming video through Vudu and Amazon Instant Video. 

Red Queens

These queens are continually running as fast as possible next to each other in order to stand still. They may leave others behind, but the two queens keep a very close pace. There may have been a time when DVD and On-Demand video were red queens, but that is no longer the case. DVD/BluRay media is not changing or enhancing to keep up with Instant Video. On the other hand, the on-demand video services are increasingly making it more convenient to receive scalable, higher quality video libraries on multiple devices. Now, the Red Queens are the various on-demand services. Each trying to gain an advantage over the other. Except, instead of just video quality and library, they have now entered the production game. Both Amazon and Netflix have begun producing their own serial shows to increase audience interest and drive up their market advantage.


Several weeks ago, I made a post about McLuhan’s tetrad. Looking at these two technologies, there are clear similarities, but also some significant differences. DVDs brought consumers a new way to collect and watch movies that was small, lightweight, higher capacity, and much higher quality than its predecessors were. It quickly made VHS obsolete except for personal recording. (Although, that disappeared with the advent of video hard-drive based digital recording devices like TiVO.) Just like the first radio and TV, DVDs brought back ideas from the past of being able to share stories and entertainment with the family in the comfort of one’s home. When taken to the extreme, you get what has replaced it: on-demand video.

Microsoft Hololens
On-demand video introduced an ability to carry thousands of movies with you on laptops, mobile phones, Smart TVs, and gaming consoles. Services like Vudu allow you to own the digital rights to movies across five or more devices. It is only a matter of time before it makes DVD and BluRay obsolete. Similar to above, it brings back the same desire to watch and be entertained, except it adds the flexibility of being free from your home, power cords, and couches to do so. You could now watch a movie on the beach if you like. When pushed to the extreme, streaming video will become device independent. Streaming directly into our minds through embedded chips that combine with nano-technology to allow us to “see” the movie as if we were watching it on the largest of screens, even when there is none there.

Laureate Education (Producer). (2014a). David Thornburg: Increasing returns [Video file]. Baltimore, MD: Author.
Laureate Education (Producer). (2014b). David Thornburg: Red queens [Video file]. Baltimore, MD: Author.


  1. The idea that movies could stream into our minds based on nano technologies has me a bit nervous. I think of virtual reality and even augmented realities like the Sixth Sense Technologies, and, as much as I love new technologies and all they offer to the world around us, I also am apprehensive about how powerfully profound and scary these technologies could become.

  2. I agree completely!