Film industry has only itself to blame for illegal streaming

Studios create massive global hype around movies but stagger releases across markets

“The film and television industries are determined to remain cleaved to an outdated distribution system which is cunningly designed to maximise their profits.”

“The film and television industries are determined to remain cleaved to an outdated distribution system which is cunningly designed to maximise their profits.”

 

Pass my pirate’s eye patch, I’m off to the criminal underworld to steal from the entertainment industry. The economy will be severely damaged and people will lose their jobs because of my selfish desire to keep up with the unfolding drama on some obscure Canadian television series which has taken my fancy.

I’d happily pay for this content, in fact I’d prefer to pay for this content. But I can’t. Whatever legal channel I go to waving my credit card and three-digit security code airily dismisses my supplications.

Dario Fo’s classic absurdist play, Can’t Pay? Won’t Pay! was about a consumer backlash against high prices. Can Pay But Not Allowed to Pay by an Anachronistic and Greedy Entertainment Industry would be the clumsily titled contemporary version of Fo’s work.

This week, seven major film and television studios were granted injunctions by an Irish court that will direct Irish internet service providers to block access to websites which stream popular television shows and films. On these websites you can watch current film and television releases without paying for them. Which is not a good thing – but then neither is preventing honest consumers from paying for content they want to watch.

It’s a tokenistic gesture in that once any popular website is blocked, even your average 12-year-old can find an alternative website within seconds flat.

Poor mouth

The entertainment industry – when it is not being pompous and pretentious about its content – is noted for its strategic ability to switch on the poor mouth when it suits.

Its argument is that the reported 1.3 million Irish people (a piece of hyperbole that would make Kellyanne Conway blush) who allegedly are engaged in “illegal” behaviour by watching films and television shows without paying for them are a “threat” to Ireland’s creative industry and furthermore are complicit in throwing people out of work. The sudden concern about the employment status of workers within the entertainment sector will come as a surprise to those who only have horror stories to tell about its pay and conditions

The sudden concern about the employment status of workers within the entertainment sector will come as a surprise to those who only have horror stories to tell about its pay and conditions

No country’s “creative industry” is under threat from a teenager wanting to watch the latest episode of Game of Thrones as soon as they can get their illegal hands on it. The sudden concern about the employment status of workers within the entertainment sector will come as a surprise to those who only have horror stories to tell about its pay and conditions.

The realpolitik behind this week’s move to block access to websites which carry content that people would happily pay for but are not allowed to do so is that the film and television industries are determined to remain cleaved to an outdated distribution system which is cunningly designed to maximise their profits.

A big Hollywood film will open first in a certain territory (typically the United States) where hype is thrown on to hype before, some time later, the film’s stars will be wheeled out on to the Graham Norton Show to throw hype on to hype for the UK/Irish market before the stars are later wheeled out in other territories on a rinse-and-repeat schedule.

It’s a form of staggered release which sees each national market hit hard with a flurry of adulatory promotional television and media exposure designed to instruct you that if you don’t pay to see this film your life really isn’t worth living.

Project maximum monetisation is then repeated when the DVD of the film (with exclusive bonus content!) is released some time later. Once this spin cycle is finished the film ends up on pay-to-view television and finally, years after the event, on free-to-air television – when everybody has stopped talking about it and has moved on to the latest, greatest, most up-to-datest new release.

This staggered distribution model worked fine in the prelapsarian days before the internet but now when a must-see film opens first in the US market the social media chatter begins and people, for good or ill, who want to be part of the conversation and not wait months until it arrives in the local multiplex tend to strap on their pirate’s eye patch and engage in illegal activity by watching it for free on a dodgy website.

Day-and-date releases

The film and television industries have long faced calls to bring in “day-and-date” releasing. This is when new content opens in cinemas and is available online on the same day. Everywhere. A parity of esteem for film and television fans.

This is being resisted as it would cut into the localised press and promotional hypefests designed to maximise profits.

One of the plaintiffs in court here this week was Twentieth Century Fox. But at the same time Fox’s own chairman, Stacey Snider, is telling people that the current method is “anachronistic” and needs to be replaced.

Speaking at a conference earlier this year, Snider said: “Most of the big films have done 90 per cent of their business in the first three to four weeks. Who is it helping by not offering premium video on demand earlier? Who is it hurting? For a business not be able to sell what it makes for a period of time is anachronistic.”

It’s not as if the internet was invented yesterday but the film and television studios are behaving as if it were. The entertainment industry creates deafening noise and hype about every new release; yet in today’s turned-on and tuned-in world it expects people to wait months/years to join the party – a party that is over when you arrive.

It’s not badness which motivates people to the sites that Irish ISPs now have to block. It’s an interest in and an engagement with the content the film and television studios are creating . We want to give them our money, they want to take our money – but only in a time-delayed way that very much suits them but very much inconveniences us.

This week’s Irish court ruling is just another pointless, finger-in-the-dyke moment against how we live our online lives.

One man’s illegal streaming theft is another man’s act of civil disobedience.

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