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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Wednesday, July 28, 2021

It's a pirate life for me

Blockbuster, Hollywood Videos, and other such brick-and-mortar video rental providers have been closing up shop in droves across the country over the past few years, simply out-competed by newer, more convenient entertainment providers like Netflix and Redbox. But the transition from these fading entertainment elites to the new generation has gone anything but smoothly thanks to meddling movie studios.

Studios have been noticing declining sales in the physical copies (DVDs, Blu-rays) of their movies for a while now. Instead of considering the fact that it might be because consumers simply don't want to purchase physical media anymore, and would far prefer to deal with streaming and digital files, they have decided to do everything possible to keep things as they are rather than adapt and move forward.

Previously, major movie studios like Warner Bros. had forced Netflix, Redbox and other such providers to agree to a 28-day waiting period after a movie had been released for retail before they could offer the property for rental. When that didn't seem to stop the decline in physical sales, Warner Bros. decided to increase the waiting period to 56 days after release.

Last month, Netflix caved and inked a new deal with Warner Bros., including a 56-day delay. However, recently Redbox decided they had had enough of these irrational tactics that only hurt consumers.

Redbox announced they would not be signing a deal directly with Warner Bros., but instead would purchase their movies through another source (i.e. from retail stores rather than from the studio directly) and offer the films with no waiting period after release. It will probably cost Redbox more now that they have to buy the films indirectly, but someone had to call out the studios on their bullshit.

As an avid movie consumer, few things have matched the frustration I've felt from watching stubborn movie studios desperately try to hold back their own distribution industry from progress. They say they want to fight piracy, and yet the very course they have been pursuing has undoubtedly driven countless pirates further into the practice.

Studios love to paint media piracy as an action purely motivated by greed. That it is an act precisely akin to walking into a Best Buy, picking up a Blu-ray copy of "Inception" and walking out the door with it tucked inside your jacket. The reality is that for most digital media pirates, the issue of payment is at or near the bottom of their list of reasons to pirate in the first place. Piracy is the result of a service problem.

Buying physical media is not completely out of the questeion. I would buy movies if movie studios offered high definition, digital copies without restrictive DRM and with all the accompanying special features that physical media became known for. And if they were available directly to the consumer for a reasonable price, as soon as possible without artificial release delay windows. I know I'd buy them. And I know a lot of pirates that would as well. After all, that has been the trend with digital music.

In 2009, a study conducted by the BI Norwegian School of Management found that those who download music illegally are also about ten times more likely to pay for songs than those who don't. Pirates are media consumers just like everyone else. They're just the savvy ones that appreciate technological convenience. But with the right service, movie studios could easily win back the hearts and wallets of pirates everywhere.

And this theory, that exceptional service can defeat piracy, has been validated by a rather unexpected source: comedian Louis C.K.

On Dec. 10, 2011, Louis posted a comedy special "Louis C.K. Live at the Beacon Theater" for sale online.

Louis paid for the production of the movie out of his own pocket without the interference of any large corporate entity. He then posted the movie for download from his website, in simple .avi format with no cumbersome DRM attached like you would get from iTunes, for the surprisingly reasonable price of $5.

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He even posted a rather humorous plea against "torrenting," admitting that he doesn't "really get the whole ‘torrenting' thing" but that he doesn't "know enough about it to judge either way." In the end, C.K. just wanted to remind everyone that, "I am not a company or a corporation. I'm just some guy. I paid for the production and posting of this video with my own money."

The result? In eight days the comedian made over a million dollars in profit. Clearly, when an entertainment property has demand, and distribution is centered on service to the consumer, there is still plenty of money to be made with digital entertainment. All the monolithic American movie studios just need to give up the ghost and join the rest of us online. Their movies sure will, with or without them.

Are you vehemently opposed to pirating digital media? Love it? Spend your evenings pondering questions of eternal morality interlaced with digital media? Let David know at dcottrell@wisc.edu.

 

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