In and around Ethiopia’s capital city Addis Ababa, vending machines that look like ATMs have been popping up in shopping malls and supermarkets. Minor detail: instead of cash money, they host an enormous amount of movies and TV shows ready to be put on your own USB drive.
When you stick your USB drive into the machine, the screen will turn on and show you a massive archive of, mostly pirated, movies and TV shows. For prices as low as 13 cents, you can pick and choose what to load on your storage device. Needless to say, DRM and copyright protection aren’t high on the agenda for this unusual and innovative machine. Some movies have been spotted on the machine as soon as the day of their release, months before a release on a disc. Despite its illegal character, the idea of curated data-distributing machines is an interesting one. Back in 2010, we featured Aram Bartholl’s Dead Drops, an anonymous file-sharing network in public space consisting of USB ports built into walls all over New York City.
The digitalization of entertainment like music and movies has changed the way we purchase, consume and store it. iTunes revolutionized music as it made it much easier to purchase, making it almost instant and without having to leave the house. With the rise of streaming services like Spotify and Netflix, consuming entertainment has become effortless. But for many, the building of a collection of music or movies you own was always as much part of the experience, and this part seems to get lost in the instant gratification-driven streaming era. With this in mind, millions of consumers would welcome the idea of getting their entertainment in convenient formats like MP4, enabling them to freely move content from device to device. Entertainment companies don’t like this risky business, fearing loss of income and piracy. The vending machines in Ethiopia could be seen as part of a movement that is advocating for more flexibility in the way we consume entertainment. Or the accessibility of entertainment in the less obvious parts of the globe.
Remember the romantic days when you would go to your local video rental shop to browse for your weekend movie? Even Netflix started and became big as a DVD delivery service before becoming the streaming giant it is today. It may still take a while before the physical data carriers, like Blu-Ray, take their final breaths. Nevertheless, for the youngsters already accustomed to storing huge amounts of data on tiny devices or in the cloud, a plastic disc carrying content is almost as outdated as a vinyl record. But even vinyl is on its return, so you never know what happens.