Updated Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday

Monday, May 10, 2010

Copy Fight

As the copyright debate flares up in Canada once again, our good friend Mr. McGrath makes the excellent point that there aren't a whole lot of people thinking about the 'creator' side of things.

In truth, I'm finding it a difficult dilemma indeed - as both a future content creator and current consumer.

I don't have a whole lot of answers for us content creators... well, not directly... but I've been thinking about something that might be interesting to consider for the whole 'piracy' angle.

One thing I've learned as I've gotten older is that the less personal investment I have in something the less I care about it.

I remember saving up for weeks on my paper route to buy a copy of Chrono Trigger for my SNES, I played that game into the ground and I loved every second of it; Found every secret, unlocked every ending. It wasn't just that it was an amazing game, even as a kid I felt the need to get my money's worth. I'd paid for it, worked hard to get it... so I wanted to make sure I got every last cent out of it.

This was true even of my favourite movies. I saved up to buy Back To The Future on VHS and watched it until the tape broke.

I invested of myself to get something that I wanted.

And yet here I am, even today, flipping through videos on YouTube without a care.

Now I know a few of you just rolled your eyes - certainly there's no correlation. But man, I can't even be inspired to click on the ads for some of the very well-produced or funny ones. Even though it'd only take one second of my valuable time.

I feel like there's this been this consciousness shift... like there's so much content, so freely available that very little of it really matters anymore. It's something I've been noticing for a while now and it's happening all over - I know people who have these massive, massive collections of music -- that they download from Limewire and the like -- but they don't even listen to it.

Why? Just to have. To collect.

Sure, they've got their playlists or whatever but that doesn't explain the 100+ gigs or more of 'stuff' kicking around.

Heck, I know more than a handful of people off the top of my head who've given up on watching TV at all. They don't need P2P, they hop on any number of the video streaming sites and just watch what they want when they want. Whether it's iTunes or not (often not).

And I know I'm not the only one.

I've seen the reports of movies and shows live on the web months before release or within minutes of airing... the truth is that - at least for the moment - there's no way to stop the people who want to circumvent the system.

And there are a lot of them. And their numbers are growing.

I guess what I'm thinking is that we, as creators, need a consciousness shift as well.

Like most businesses I think we're going to have to accept a certain amount of 'breakage', understanding that no matter how hard we try we're never going to get dollar for dollar return on everything we put out there.

Perhaps -- and I'll do my best to take my egging in stride -- what we need to do is change, or at least update, the way we look at our content and our audience.

What if we looked at file-sharers and 'pirates' as, well, boons to the industry?

And, if that were true, if we looked at it from that perspective, how could we take the 'problem' they represent and make it a solution?

Perhaps even get them to work with us?

I mean, what do we really sell these days? The content? Sure.

But what about the experience?

I know that in the West end of Canada there are a fair amount of people who love their time-shifting... why? Because they get to see their shows before everyone else. It's a simple thing, but it's something. It's neat. A privilege, even -- especially if you have thousands of hungry fans sitting there jealous of you 'cause you got to see it hours or days before them.

Now, granted, what I'm about to propose may not solve every problem in the pipe... but it might offer some glimmer... something to build off of.

Why don't we offer people like our 'pirates' the 'privilege' of seeing shows before they go to air?

And, I mean at a reduced rate.

Why not treat them like they're out there on the vanguard? As being special? Pioneers even. The first to discover the next big hit.

I mean, since they're already out there actively searching out content, doing the legwork for you - they're creating entire networks on their own to talk about and recommend your shows by passing them off to one another. (See: Battlestar Galactica)

What if, for 99 cents and for a limited amount of time, your user gets a one-time, HD, commercial-free link that takes you to your show, streamed from the cloud into a stand-alone player.

Maybe you fill out some surveys, maybe you write a review... but you get to see a show that won't air for a few months.

Sort of like that preview screening they do in LA and Vegas but online and not just with 'new' shows.

I'm talking every show. From The Mentalist to Sons Of Anarchy to Top Chef or CSI.

Heck, maybe you get to see it Tuesday night even though it airs on Wednesday.

I know people will pay for that.

Maybe it's as simple as the average consumer getting access to the kinds of publicity discs usually reserved for reviewers or something.

But the best part is that these people -- if it's a new show, and they like it, become your champions. They create your community for you. They get eyes and PVRs glued for the actual air date and, hey, at 99 cents a pop you're even making a bit of cash.

Cash that maybe - just maybe - can go to... you know, creators.

Broadcasters/Studios/Distributors, don't balk. Seriously: It's win/win.

I mean, hey, if it's an established show you're still building word-of-mouth advertising (which anyone will tell you is the strongest form -- and thus, to me, most expensive).

The best part is that, really, I think this is a model that anyone could use... given time. I mean, even if the technology's not entirely here yet it's definitely coming down the pipe.

Granted, maybe this is just me saying 'can't we all just get along'... but maybe there's something there too.

Perhaps if we can cut down on the 'piracy' stuff, or, more specifically, change our perception of it -- find a way to make it make some sort of return then... well, maybe it'll pass on down; People won't be so pissy about locking shows down to various formats and players and the like.

Maybe we'll all find a way to get our fair share of the pie.

True, this doesn't deal with the tendency of people (Gate Keepers) to be greedy SOBs... but maybe it gives something for creators to swing for. Something to ask for. Or demand, if you've got a great lawyer or agent.

I'm just saying that maybe treating the 'pirates' like your elite audience is a step in the right direction.

Then again, maybe I'm just off my freaking rocker.

In closing, true, you're not going to get everyone - there will always be people out there who's entire life's goal is to molest the system... but I think you'll see more return from following something like this.

Or as so many grandma's have said:

"You'll catch more flies with honey than vinegar".

Just my 2 cents.



Anonymous said...

I'll add that, if movie studios would offer a download of a new movie the day it opens through iTunes or something like it, I would definitely watch it that way.

Going out to the movies is complicated and often really expensive for my family.

The result? I see maybe one movie a month, maybe one a quarter, in the theatres. Too much pain in the ass factor.

But my neighbours in the same boat as us, with more kids too, download pirated movies like crazy.

It makes me uncomfortable, as another future hopeful content provider, but at the same time I understand their issues.

Part of it is the cost, but it's really complicated for families to get out, especially with multiple kids.

Except I hate the crap quality these downloaded pirated movies usually are. I don't tend to enjoy a movie going experience that makes me feel like I forgot to wear my glasses - and I don't wear glasses.

But if the movies were a reasonable price - say around $3-5, the same price as a DVD rental, and were available on the same day, or, following your model, an online "sneak preview", then there would be an alternative to the piracy and, if the content is good, would help generate some opening night buzz.

John McFetridge said...

What you're talking about is pretty much the publishing business.

Of course, they're fighting it, too, but with publishing there is Cory Doctorow proving that by making all of the content free it actually helps sell books. Exactly for the reasons you say, the 'pirates' are really the new PR departments sprading the word and the 'pirated' books they read are really just a lot more Advance Reading Copies being given away.

We're starting to see it in TV, too. I don't get HBO Canada but I watched the first episode of Living in Your Car on their website last week.

Of course, it's different for books where you can give away an endless amount of e-books if it helps to sell a few thousand hard copies and you'll still make a profit.

I have no idea who will invest the upfront capital in movies and TV shows when the content is given away. I guess we'll increase the amount of government investment - it's little too Marxist for me, but it seems to be what people want.