How Big Media Makes It Easier to Steal Content Than Buy It

Time, Money Spent on Fighting Piracy Should Be Directed Toward Digital Video

By Published on .

Keith Richman
Keith Richman
Big media companies spend a lot of money and energy combating piracy, but perhaps they need to spend time making it easier and more compelling to buy digital versions of their products. The use of digital media is on the rise, and younger demographics not only assume they can immediately access the content they want digitally, they are baffled when they cannot. If my personal life is even slightly representative, it is happening increasingly with older demographics as well. I can tell you from my own experience, buying digital video is not as easy as it looks.

For example, I wanted to watch season four of "30 Rock" last week. Seems like a simple enough task given:

  • I subscribe to every single channel on cable and have VOD.
  • I have a Netflix subscription and have streaming hooked up in each room.
  • I own an Apple TV in one room.
  • I have a Tivo XL in another room.
  • I have 2 laptops and an iPad.
Basically, I spend a sizable chunk of money per month to access content and have a lot of screens on which I can consume it. If there is a person in the world who should be able to access the show through legal means it's me. Things are never that easy -- here is how my quest for Jack Donaghy inspiration unfolded:

  • I went to VOD, but NBC did not offer it.
  • I went to Netflix but Season Four was not available on DVD or Streaming. Bummer.
  • I went to iTunes, where it was finally available, but it was $59.99 for the season. Unfortunately, I was not in the room with the Apple TV.
  • I went to Amazon, where it was available for streaming or download for $31.99. I could download to my Tivo or my PC, but not my Mac.
  • I went to Hulu, which had only five episodes from season four and not even five consecutive ones (8, 9, 18, 19, 22). Additionally, Hulu can't connect to my TV without me being a hacker.

I chose Amazon VOD given the price and elected to have it sent to my Tivo, only to realize VOD meant "VOD in about 30 minutes or less." After 15 minutes, I opted to read a book and try this again the next night.

Last night, however, I was in the room without the Tivo, which shouldn't be a problem because that room also has an internet-capable Samsung that connects to Amazon VOD...except you can only download to one device. I could either pay for it all again on Amazon, or use the Apple TV option, which was still twice as expensive.

This process was proving to be as frustrating as Tracy Jordan's quest for the elusive EGOT (a joke I would only get if I could actually watch season four!). All I wanted to do was consume content I legitimately paid for through my cable bill, and despite that fact, was willing to pay for again. As part of this process, I encountered random price differentials and windowing and still could not get the content where and when I wanted.

Or... I could get it where and when I wanted it if I was willing to steal it and just visit one of thousands of torrent sites. I'm not going to lie -- it's a tempting alternative!

As quickly as traditional media companies are moving to adapt to the world we live in, they are not doing enough. Allowing content to be offered through one provider, but not another, or on one device, but not another, only creates frustration and conditions anyone tech-savvy enough (ie. under the age of 25) that it is easier to find content on a torrent site.

Apple by far does the best job at creating a seamless experience for content consumers today. However, it is a closed system for consumers -- you need Apple devices and applications to consume. It also might be the worst system for content creators. The one guy programming the movies homepage on iTunes will almost single-handedly be able to make or break a movie's success. Even worse, as much content as Apple sells, they still make it really easy for consumers to import pirated content into their systems as well.

I recognize that media companies have real issues they face as they transition to digital, and that existing and significant revenue streams are threatened. That does not change the fact that they are competing against piracy, where cost is $0 and convenience is abundant. Most people don't want to use torrent services, but will if they feel they are being gouged or inconvenienced.

The MPAA runs these anti-theft ads before movies.

The reality might be that most people don't want to steal cars. But if I bought a car to go to my friend's house and then found out I needed a new car to drive down his street and then another car to go to his driveway ... or I could steal one that looked and drove the exact same as the one I bought and most likely wouldn't get in trouble, but that car drove me wherever I wanted to go...what would most people do?

Keith Richman is CEO of Break Media.
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