In the times we live in, it’s a fact that a lot of people download music and movies from the web through P2P or BitTorrent. The music and movie industries naturally see this as a threat and try to stifle it, but it seems these attempts are in vain.
The idea is that companies, artists, actors and others should get paid for what they do, which is a fair assumption. The problem, though, is that the industry is stuck in old distributional chains where they had a lot more control. With the advent of Internet, however, things are bound to run out of control. My belief is that no matter how hard they try to legislate and to hunt people who fileshare down, the phenomenon will continue to exist, and also grow stronger in its rebelliousness against the “higher power”.
“We’ve lost so-and-so much money”
The basic, let’s be outright honest about this, crap is that companies lose so-and-so much money on people who have seen, for instance, a movie by downloading it instead of going to the cinema. Just because someone has watched a movie illegally doesn’t mean that they otherwise would have paid to see it. Most people watch movies in a casual manner, and instead of having some kind of fake hopes that this would have been money in the bank for the company, just see the enormous marketing benefit of this!
If they like the movie, they will tell their friends and recommend it. Their friends, in turn, might watch it in the cinema or buy the DVD; they might also just download it. Either way, if they like it, they will spread the word, and so on. Never underestimate viral marketing!
Which road to take
To me it seems like there are two fundamental paths to choose from; either, try and hunt down and punish people who fileshare, or find a new angle and offer a product that supersedes the illegal alternatives and instead makes people addicted to the “real” thing. In many cases, it comes down to availability:
Is what I want available when I want it? If not, how can I get it?
That’s the core mindset of the audience, so it’s time to listen to them. People love using the Internet for accessing their favorite music and movies, but the services today aren’t well-developed enough and/or are so ridiculously overpriced that, as an example, a movie download will cost the same as buying the DVD in a store, but without the packaging and actual DVD record. What makes you think people would pay the same money for less value? Really?
DRM is a joke. Really. Whenever a legally bought product, in any way, becomes harder to use than something that can be downloaded “for free”, why would people pay? Throw away all your demands for restrictions, because they simply won’t work. Let people share a movie or a song as many times as they want, through whatever medium they want.
Forget about proprietary solutions that limit the user to a certain computer platform or digital music (e.g. MP3) player. If, for any reason, the distribution channel forces the end user to use a product from a certain provider, you’ve lost. There will always be cracks, hacks and workarounds, so you have to live with it. Tough, but that’s the reality; never think you can outsmart such a vast community of people who are very technically skilled. DRM of any kind is the road to failure.
People do want to do the right thing
Some people will never pay, and that’s the way it is. A witch hunt will never make a difference, since their main goal is to get something for free, not the actual experience of what they’re getting. However, I sincerely believe that a majority people want to go the legal route and pay for what they watch/listen to. Anyone, who is, say, 25+ of age, have grown up in a world where you actually had to buy what you wanted, in terms of records and movies. Kids who are teenagers now, and the coming generations, learn to download things from the Internet before they learn to pay. And they are really the gist of the problem.
If such a habit becomes a de facto standard for accessing any entertainment material, we will have to face a downward spiral with less and less income for companies producing music and movies. And then, at the end of the day, less quality content will be produced and distribution companies will go for the quick profit. Everyone loses.
What users want
Whenever a music record, or, more importantly, a movie is released/having its premiere, people want it. Immediately! The buzz is right then, and as with all hypes, you have to let it work for you instead of against. Instead of fighting vigorously to quench it, music and movie companies have to start providing what people want. My humble take is that, if not already, the situation is on its way overboard. Listen to opinions, and try to meet the mass market’s need and desires, to able to outcompete illegal file sharing.
In the area of TV shows and movies, people don’t want to wait for it to come to their country, or to wait another week for the next episode of their favorite series. We live in a on-demand world and if the audience wants to watch several episodes in a row, let them have it (given that it’s already produced, of course).
- When a movie (or TV show) premiers, make it instantly available as a download to all the world.
- Make it available in a format so attractive that searching through P2P and/or BitTorrent sites for a good quality copy is a waste of time.
- Reasonable pricing: maybe $0.50 for a song and $5 for a movie.
- Alternatively, offer free ad-sponsored solutions, which will be a good complement to buying.
- No DRM or any other lock-ins. Seriously.
- General availability. Everything that’s accessible through any other channel has to be available through the Internet as well.
A good example
Some TV companies in the US made their TV shows available, ad-sponsored, online the day after they were shown on TV, which is, in general, a great idea. The problem with this, though (except for the fact that they haven’t been able to watch as the exact same time as the program), is, again, availability. Sure, US citizen could watch it, but what about the rest of the world? Sure, I understand the problematic situation that they can’t make it available to all the world simultaneously, while also trying to sell it to international networks. But this is most likely something that has to be changed to be able to cater to the whole world at once.
So, the only good example I’ve seen so far of thinking in the right terms is Joost. It is ad-supported but otherwise completely free for the end user, who can choose to watch whatever he/she wants no matter the time (I’ve been beta-testing Joost for a while now, and will write a review about it in the future; stay tuned). However, Joost doesn’t yet offer movies so there’s a wide open field there to target.
And I think this solution is one of the ways there are to go: offer good content as easily available as possible, with a different financing plan than current alternatives have.