60 Minutes Puts Forth Laughable, Factually Incorrect MPAA Propaganda On Movie Piracy
from the no-sense-of-history dept
31 years ago, in 1978, the television program 60 Minutes put on an episode about the awful threat of “video piracy” to the movie industry. Featuring the MPAA’s Jack Valenti, the episode focused on how the VCR was going to destroy the movie business because anyone could copy and watch a movie in the privacy of their own home. Of course, in retrospect, that episode is hilariously wrong. You would think that, given how wrong they got it thirty years ago on this particular subject, 60 Minutes would be a bit more careful taking on the same subject again.
No such luck.
CBS’s 60 Minutes has made itself out to be more of a laughingstock than usual when it comes to “investigative reporting,” putting on an episode about “video piracy” that is basically 100% MPAA propaganda, without any fact checking or any attempt to challenge the (all MPAA connected) speakers, or to include anyone (anyone!) who would present a counterpoint. The episode is funny in that it contradicts itself at times (with no one noticing it) and gets important (and easily checked) facts wrong. And, of course, it basically mimics that old episode that history has shown to have been totally (laughably) false.
The report opens with the claim that counterfeit movies is where organized crime is making its money these days. Fascinating. Except they don’t show any proof whatsoever that organized crime has anything to do with movie piracy at all. They just claim it, talk about Mexican gangs, and then assume it must be true. But, of course, most of the report actually focuses on the internet and file sharing of movies — which completely goes against the claim that organized crime is “making its money” off of video piracy. After all, reports have shown that online file sharing has actually been putting DVD counterfeiters out of business. You would think that the “journalists” at 60 Minutes might have noticed this contradiction.
A big chunk of the episode is taken up by director Steven Soderbergh, who has come out in the past touting the MPAA’s line before, so it’s no surprise that he does so again. He claims that “piracy is costing Hollywood $6 billion a year at the box office.” Does he mention that Hollywood has been making more and more and more at the box office every year the past few years? Oops. No. Did the reporters at 60 Minutes look into this fact and bring it up? Of course not. The entire story appears to be an MPAA press release, so you don’t want to cloud it with pesky facts that prove they don’t know what they’re talking about.
Next up, Soderbergh claims that fewer movies are getting made thanks to movie piracy. Uh huh. Another checkable fact. Another one wrong. It was recently summarized, according to the movie industry’s own numbers:
2004 Total Movies Released: 567 Total Combined Gross: $9,327,315,935
2005 Total Movies Released: 594 Total Combined Gross: $8,825,324,278
2006 Total Movies Released: 808 Total Combined Gross: $9,225,689,414
2007 Total Movies Released: 1022 Total Combined Gross: $9,665,661,126
2008 Total Movies Released: 1037 Total Combined Gross: $9,705,677,862
2009 Total Movies Released: 1177 Total Combined Gross: $7,596,626,766
(2009 figures incomplete, total movies scheduled to be released, gross to date)
So, actually, more than double the number of movies are being made today than just five years ago. Hmm. That’s the sort of thing that a real journalist at a show like 60 Minutes might bring up to a biased director like Steven Soderberg, right? Nope.
The article mentions how to go to the movies these days, some people have to go through “airport-like security. Their bags are searched for cameras and they have to check their cell phones.” Does it point out that this might be a pretty serious reason why people might not want to go to the movies? A reason why people might actually give less money to the industry? Nope. Why bother with details like that?
And then, 60 Minutes brings on our favorite industry spokesperson: Rick Cotton, NBC Universal’s general counsel, the guy who warned that movie piracy put corn farmers at risk because people watching pirated movies eat less popcorn (never mind the fact that the corn industry is thriving, that people watching pirated movies still eat popcorn, and “popcorn” represents an infinitesimal part of the market…). Cotton was also the guy who thought it was a good idea to push people who wanted to watch the Olympics to pirate it rather than watch the crappy official online channel. Cotton is asked how many movies are released in the US:
“Ballpark, 400 to 500 movies are released in the United States.”
Except, as we noted above, he’s off by about 600 or 700 movies. Again, this is the sort of “fact” that a reporter, such as those employed by CBS and working on a television program like 60 Minutes might be expected to check, right? I would guess that most viewers of 60 Minutes expect the show’s reporters and legions of other employees to do such basic fact checking. So, given that 1177 movies are going to be released in 2009, doesn’t it make sense to, say, push back on Cotton’s bogus number? Apparently not.
Random aside: I wonder how much money CBS makes from the big studios buying movie ads? That can’t be important here, can it?
Most of the rest of the program is Soderbergh making a bunch of totally unsubstantiated statements, such as saying that no one would make The Matrix today. Why? No explanation. It’s just that Sodergbergh says.
And, of course, beyond failing to fact check the most basic facts, no one at 60 Minutes thought to talk to anyone outside of the studio system to see if it made sense. It didn’t talk to any one of the growing number of people who are making movies and embracing file sharing to help get those movies seen. It didn’t talk to moviemakers who are embracing new business models. It didn’t talk to copyright experts and consumer advocates who have shown how ridiculous the MPAA’s claims are. In other words, it presented an MPAA press release as if it were news. Thirty years after it did the same exact thing and got the entire story wrong. It didn’t even go back and note that earlier episode. It just repeated it with modern stand-ins.