There’s no arguing that the proliferation of file sharing technology (e.g. BitTorrent or similar) has changed the industry for content creators. Never before has it been easier to acquire free movies or music. Or has it?
For the last several years we, the consumers, have had to endure the complaints (dare I say whining) of movie studios and the recording industry. Both industries cite digital piracy as the root cause of their financial loss. Funny how this argument rarely (if ever) surfaced during the days of analog.
Piracy of content has been going on for decades, long before the Internet was around. With the advent of the VCR and Cassette Recorder (which I guess would technically be an ACR) people have been able to duplicate content with relative ease. I remember when stereos started to come out with not one but two cassette bays for this purpose alone. Drop in a master tape, then a blank tape and copy away.
The same was true for movies. I had friends who subscribed to their movie channel of choice, and then regularly recorded movies from the television to tape for later viewing. All one had to do was hook up two VCRs and you could easily duplicate those tapes for friends. All those years of consumers pirating content and hardly a word from media moguls about lost revenue.
Fast forward to today. It seems not a week goes by without someone in the world of entertainment getting on a soapbox and crying fowl over the horrors of piracy. On the box this week: Rhett Reese, co-writer of Zombieland.
Reese started somewhat of a firestorm after commenting on the fact Zombieland is currently the most popular download on BitTorrent, “Beyond depressing. This greatly affects the likelihood of a Zombieland 2.”
Really? Alright, let’s look at the numbers. As of Nov. 12 Zombieland made just over $84 Million worldwide. The production cost was approximately $24 Million. That means after costs the movie pulled in $60 Million. I realize those figures are approximate (movie budgets can be tricky), but am I to believe that amount of presumed profit simply isn’t enough to warrant a sequel? Well, I don’t.
Reese did respond in greater detail as to what bothered him about the piracy of Zombieland:
“My two tweet plea (five if you include my three angry tweets to individuals) began after I read tweet upon tweet for hours, days, weeks, in which people mentioned (or often, bragged) openly about having just watched Zombieland at home for free. I largely shrugged this piracy off as inevitable, but it never felt good to read the tweets
Then I saw the 60 Minutes episode on piracy. And then I read an article about the sheer numbers of downloads of Zombieland in particular. Rightly or wrongly, I felt burned. For the record, I may have been over-dramatic, in my emotional state, in suggesting that downloading could kill Zombieland 2. It could. In our case, the greater hope/expectation is that it won’t. The movie has done very well.”
Let me say I understand where Reese is coming from. As a content creator he should be concerned about his work effectively being stolen. The reality, however, is that piracy is never going away. Let me say that again, piracy is never going away.
What began in the days of analog will only continue as digital content evolves. Efforts to incorporate Digital Rights Management (or other versions of copy protection) into media has all but failed. So much so in fact that Apple abandoned it with its music on iTunes and other providers have started using DRM free content as a selling feature. Further, DRM practice does nothing more then punish the paying customers in a futile effort to prevent others from stealing it. This is to say nothing of the numerous ways that exist to circumvent DRM through technology.
Studios have to realize the only way to curb piracy is to change their business model. Staggered release schedules worldwide and waiting months for DVDs to ship are creating a void. People want to see a cool new movie, but they can’t because it hasn’t been released in their area yet, or the DVD has not hit shelves.
As such, they turn to the one truly universal distribution model to fill that void: piracy. Years ago the business model worked, but as Globalization and the Internet continue to make the world a single place, this bygone design of distribution methodology becomes more and more broken. Further, it is creating the very vacuum where piracy thrives.
The way consumers consume content is presenting a very real paradigm shift in entertainment. In the last few years we have seen a dramatic change in expectation by the consumer to have their content when they want it, not when a company tells them they can have it. Digital Video Recorders (DVRs) have ushered in an era of on-demand television.
Film studios have yet to come up with something comperable. This is one of the main reasons piracy is so prevelant and it has nothing to do with free content being available online. It’s all about timing. People want something now and Hollywood stubbornly refuses to give them what they want.
Worse yet, these are paying customers I’m referring to, not the people who would steal the content anyway. Hollywood would have you believe the vast majority of people are downloading movies for free, but this isn’t the case. The reality is the majority of people pay for content. If they didn’t, the movie and music industries would cease to exist.
The entertainment industry has to accept the fact their content is going to get stolen and assume some level of sales attrition because of it. It’s simply the way of things now and nothing is going to change that. Consider it the new cost of doing business, and it sounds like business is doing just fine even with piracy abound.
In the end, piracy will prevail. Just how much of an impact this will have on Hollywood’s bottom line can be directly equated to how quickly the business model changes. If studios refuse to cater to the changing needs of consumers, the Internet, specifically file sharing, certainly will.