As MPAA Insists TV Piracy Is So Harmful, Breaking Bad Creator Explains How Piracy Helped

from the but-of-course dept

At this point, it’s amazing how tone deaf the MPAA remains about the impact of people downloading TV shows. Just a few days ago, the MPAA posted a silly blog post arguing that people getting copies of The Walking Dead from unauthorized sources demonstrated how “content theft is a complex problem… that needs to be taken seriously.” Except, a day or so later, the creator of AMC’s other super popular show (now concluded) Breaking Bad, Vince Gilligan, explained how piracy really helped the show build its base and become so popular:

“[It] led to a lot of people watching the series who otherwise would not have.”

Of course, at this point, this shouldn’t be surprising. Folks behind Game of Thrones have more or less said the same thing. Of course, they also try to hedge their claims. Gilligan, for example, followed up his statement above with the following:

“The downside is a lot of folks who worked on the show would have made more money, myself included, if all those downloads had been legal.”

Except, that’s wrong. Or, rather, it’s fantasy-world. If people hadn’t pirated it, Breaking Bad would have had a much smaller audience, and likely a much shorter run. Recent interviews with the writing staff suggested they expected the show to be cancelled many times throughout the run. If it wasn’t getting more and more viewers, it seems likely that it would have been canceled much earlier, and Gilligan’s reputation and brand wouldn’t be as wonderful as it is currently. It seems quite likely that it would have resulted in him making less money both from Breaking Bad itself and from future projects, where he’ll now be able to command a much larger paycheck, given this success.

The MPAA is right that it’s “complex,” but the constant drumbeat that it’s a problem that needs to be fixed seems to ignore the reality that those who have embraced much more widespread distribution and the benefits it provides, have found that it’s not necessarily a problem at all. It’s only a problem for those who fail to capitalize on it (and, we should note, that “failing to capitalize on new opportunities” is sort of a trademark of the MPAA).

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Comments on “As MPAA Insists TV Piracy Is So Harmful, Breaking Bad Creator Explains How Piracy Helped”

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58 Comments
Ninja (profile) says:

You see, a whole lot of people who downloaded would never have watched in any other means either for lack of availability, money or whatever the heck of a reason. Fact is they watched. There are all sorts of things that must be considered before saying they are somewhat a loss. What if they buy the BD/DVD? What if they buy merchandise? What if they pay for future endeavors from the same crew? What if they became evangelists, advocates for the series and brought in many more fans? There are all sorts of “what ifs” that cannot be ignored and make the MAFIAA points less than impressive. While these questions alone do not automatically make the MAFIAA wrong there have been shitloads of examples, EMPIRICAL examples mind you, that prove them wrong. And I’m not even mentioning their record revenues after record revenues in the middle of a financial crisis.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

And what I the answers to each of your questions was “No, not really.”? You are guessing, just like Masnick here is being presumptuous saying that the creator of the show is “wrong”. Perhaps he has special insight unavailable to anyone, anywhere pertaining specifically to this production. Or is he simply generalizing once more?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Pretty much everyone is guessing.

There’s no real, conclusive data here. The little data we have is cherry picked by each side to support their narrative.

My opinion is that Copyright has outlived its usefulness. In a world where everything can be copied – even physical objects, with 3D printers – giving one person an exclusive right to make copies is beyond nonsensical.

I concede that this notion certainly shakes the foundations of some industries. But that’s really not society’s problem. They had decades to read the writing on the wall*. Their failure to prepare themselves for the inevitable is their fault alone. Why should society bear the cost of their failure?

* And the software and games industry did, mostly switching away from charging for software directly to charging for access to services.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Well, I couldn’t watch the show legally, as there was nothing available in my country for years.

That country is the UK. And in a globalised economy, it is poor business sense to claim that there is only One True Way, as the MPAA does constantly.

You are right that the issue is more complex than simple yes/no questions can answer, however.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

So on the one hand the creator is saying that Piracy helped make it big. On the other hand he is saying if they had all paid he’d have more money. That’s a hindsight sort of view where he has the numbers from what happened.

Consider that the price point to get those people to watch through piracy was less than the offered selling price. Somewhere between less than Cable and 0. Those options aren’t available. One can conclude that in a world without piracy they would likely not have seen the show.

Logically it follows that the show would not have reached the peak it’s at now. The hype would not have been as big, less viewers, less word of mouth, etc.

At the end of the day the only clear result is that all the viewers he has now, would not have all paid. His statement of everyone paying would have made the creators richer is true, but it’s pure fantasy.

I think the big takeaway point is not that piracy is justified. It’s that the net effect of piracy is far less than what is being pushed by lobbyists. It’s not a pure loss, it’s entirely possible in some cases that it profits the creators. It’s also entirely possible it hurts them. Personally i see it as the market response to the one sided contracts copyright provides content makers. Producers say you will consume as we dictate. Consumers are saying no… we won’t. Where producers work with consumers… they are likely to make money. Where they try and screw them over, they will in turn be screwed.

When the only negotiating tool you have is to do something illegal, often something illegal is done.

RD says:

Re: Re: Re: Buzz Buzz

“Buzz is Buzz. If everyone is talking about your stuff, then that’s a good thing. That will lead to more people watching by legitimate means. The piracy is just a form of viral marketing.

It’s far better to tolerate some mooches than to fade into obscurity.”

DING! This is THE fundamental truth about all creative endeavors that result in some kind of income/money.

Piracy is INSIGNIFICANT a problem compared to OBSCURITY. If you don’t think so, then you have no business running a Big Media studio or trying to earn a living from creative efforts. You certainly don’t get to bitch about it (hi ootb!)

BernardoVerda says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Buzz Buzz

Well known author Eric Flint (the first BAEN Books published author, in fact, to “put his money/royalties where his mouth was, and make some of his work available for $free and DRM-free from BAEN Books) put it something along these lines:

the artist’s biggest problem (after actually creating good art, of course) is not “piracy”, but obscurity — once the author manages to find an audience, getting compensation for their work, from their audience, is a much smaller problem. That audience is, by definition, already interested in the artist’s work. He wrote a series of editorials on the topic:
Salvos Against Big Brother
http://www.ericflint.net/index.php/2011/09/26/salvos-against-big-brother/

He continues to make his work available, and many authors have emulated his actions, and found doing so to be [i]profitable[/i].
Baen Books
http://www.baen.com/default.asp
Baen Free Library
http://www.baenebooks.com/c-1-free-library.aspx

out_of_the_blue says:

OR, if people had paid for it, would have had much longer run.

“If people hadn’t pirated it, Breaking Bad would have had a much smaller audience, and likely a much shorter run.”

Popular shows are popular, but if don’t make money, won’t last.

When your arguments are trivially reversable, and you’ve NO actual evidence just biased assertions, then it’s no wonder you’re not taken seriously.

Despite actual evidence for FIFTEEN years, you keep on as if any day now entire industries will come crawling to you for advice to get out their slump.

Maybe today items won’t be so feeble as yesterday, but you’re off to slow start.


Masnicking: daily spurts of short and trivial traffic-generating items.

02:08:00[c-65-0]

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: OR, if people had paid for it, would have had much longer run.

“Despite actual evidence for FIFTEEN years”

Oooh this is new. Where is that evidence? Not the bull that is refuted quite easily such as “every download is a lost sale” or “nobody ever buys anything if it’s available for free”. 15 years worth of evidence? Stuff that’s not been debunked ad infinitum or consists of lies, strawmen and misdirection? Go on, link to it.

“Maybe today items won’t be so feeble as yesterday”

Don’t worry, trolling a blog will always be the feeblest activity one can partake in online, so your position at the bottom of the barrel is safe.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: OR, if people had paid for it, would have had much longer run.

Only you could characterize getting people who paid nothing to pay in full as ‘trivially reversable.’ The fact of the matter is there’s a relationship between price and sales. There’s nothing ‘trivial’ about the reversal ‘well if all these people had magically paid money instead of getting it for free.’ That’s a pie-in-the-sky reversal of epic proportions. The creator is rightly pointing out there’s more to success than getting every person to pay to watch.

Zakida Paul (profile) says:

Re: OR, if people had paid for it, would have had much longer run.

Wasn’t it the creators who decided this was it? I think it is more likely that they felt that they had gone as far as they could with the show and decided to end it before it became stale and repetitive. Far too many shows go on for far too long and they lose a certain je ne sais quoi along the way and their legacy is forever tarnished. That will not be the case with Breaking Bad.

JMT says:

Re: OR, if people had paid for it, would have had much longer run.

“Popular shows are popular, but if don’t make money, won’t last.”

Jeebers, do you even read what you write to make sure it isn’t just plain stupid?

The TV formula is simple: Popular = ratings = advertising income = it will last! By definition, popular shows get renewed. Shows don’t become popular just by being good, plenty of good shows have been cancelled due to lack of popularity. Shows become popular because lots of people find out about it, watch, and decide to keep watching. Only an idiot would deny piracy contributes to that popularity.

deCameron says:

I Would love to pay for shows

If there was a simple quick way to pay and download. I think an episode (of say a 12 or 24 season) should cost about 20p-50p each. Though if i could get pay on demand then i would have to stop my (you are a pirate) BBC TV licence fee, but then there would be the problem of not paying BBC Radio 6…

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: I Would love to pay for shows

“If there was a simple quick way to pay and download. I think an episode (of say a 12 or 24 season) should cost about 20p-50p each.”

Well, there’s your problem. There are ways to do this, but they are far more expensive than what you just mentioned (UK iTunes has episodes of Breaking Bad for ?1.89 each or ?18/season), not to mention all the crap surrounding geo restrictions, DRM, etc. That’s another example of how people often overvalue their digital product. I’ve certainly never bought a TV show through iTunes, not worth the asking price.

But, Breaking Bad actually became a good example of how to make things available in the last season. Rather than forcing people to wait silly lengths of time, UK Netflix had episodes streaming the day after the US transmission. Not as lucrative as individual purchases perhaps, and I don’t know what overall effect it had on illegal downloads of the show, but you’d have to be a moron to suggest that everyone streaming it would just have waited 6 months or paid full price for the episodes had that legal option not existed.

“i would have to stop my (you are a pirate) BBC TV licence fee”

That’s not what the licence fee is. You might object to it and its mandatory nature, but it’s got sod all to do with piracy.

Andrew Norton (profile) says:

Make more money??

Erm, I don’t know how they’d “make more money”.
Thanks to Hollywood accounting, only a moron would accept any sort of pay deal based on viewership/profitability.

Besides, every TV show I’ve worked on (be it for Comedy Central, G4, BBC or Channel4) I’ve always been paid WAY before it airs, most of the time before I’d even left the filming location (nothing quite like being handed a cheque for thousands as you’re checking out of the hotel…)

Spike (profile) says:

In this article the studios claim that illegal downloading devalues the content and that the broadcasters want to pay less for it, however the studios say the exact same thing about Netflix and continually refuse to renew contracts or double their licensing fees effectively holding Netflix at ransom.

Netflix streaming wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for piracy, but both are treated very similar. Netflix would be shut down if they could argue a case for it, but thankfully piracy isn’t going away.

madasahatter (profile) says:

Advertising and Piracy

Downloading can be viewed as either a form of advertising or “piracy”. Many mid and small budget movies do not get much advertising support from the studios. So downloading is a form of advertising; I might download a copy and like it and then become a fan. Fans tend to spend money on their favorites. Blockbuster movies in particular get heavy promotion so downloads are not viewed as advertising but as “piracy” on the assumption each download represents a lost sale.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Advertising and Piracy

Downloading is never just advertising. It effectively devalues the product for that particular individual (Buying after seeing is not happening if the product is bad and in the “Havent seen before buying”-instance the trailer they allowed people to see could easily just be pimped up.).
It is therefore piracy at its soul and advertising is a sideeffect along with fanbase increase and better future potential.

Just seeing piracy as something positive is naive and what cause creators to not trust the pirate parties.
Btw. viewing piracy as only bad, is just as stupid. MPAA is not doing themself a favour by trying to drum up the piracy apocalypse myth. They should be moving towards cooperating with the technology industry to create platforms both can stomach.

Niall (profile) says:

Re: Re: Advertising and Piracy

The only thing that ‘devalues’ the product is the quality of the product itself. If it’s good, it won’t devalue. If it’s bad, it devalues itself quite happily. And you can’t paint with a broad brush and say “all piracy devalues the original”. By that argument, DVD price reductions do as well, as do other promotional activities where someone doesn’t pay the ‘full’ price.

Plenty of people /do/ pirate for many reasons, including test sampling, or because they can’t afford to – or because it’s just more convenient. As long as they end up buying some stuff and tell people about what they like, it’s free advertising. You know, the stuff that companies throw money away to do, because it makes them money. Is everyone who sees an advert but doesn’t buy the product a ‘lost sale’? Only in terms of not having managed to appeal to them!

Make easy, legal and cheap options available, and people will use them instead of a lot of pirating. And the real moochers would never have given you a penny anyway.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Advertising and Piracy

Copyright maximalists have completely missed the concept that for some downloaders, the value of the product may be primarily in its availability online. There are many movies that aren’t great, that customers might not otherwise be willing to see, if they aren’t free. Its the equivalent of just timeshifting your viewing of the movie years earlier than it would otherwise be airing on TV, except not bowdlerized and interspersed with commercials/bathroom breaks.

If the maximalists get to wax hypothetical about all the money they would have made if people had paid (when they may not have been willing or able to), then you have to accept the reverse scenario as well in which some downloaders would have wanted their money back if they had paid for it or they might not have even actually watched more than 20 minutes of what they downloaded. If a download is a lost sale, then paying to see a movie in advance that turns out to subjectively be crap without offering a refund is “theft” or “fraud.” (It’s not actually theft or fraud, and a download isn’t actually a lost sale.)

JMT says:

Re: Re: Advertising and Piracy

“Downloading is never just advertising. It effectively Downloading is never just advertising. It effectively devalues the product for that particular individual”

Well that’s a pretty fundamental misunderstanding right there. Downloading doesn’t devalue the product for that particular individual; the individual has already decided on the product’s value to them when deciding to download it or obtain it through some other unauthorised manner. They have already decided that they do not believe the product is worth paying the asking price for. They may decide that there initial judgment of its value was correct, or they may decide it is in fact worth paying for. Their perceived value of the creator’s other products might also increase or decrease as a result, hence the assertion that piracy is a form of (free) advertising.

BernardoVerda says:

Re: Advertising and Piracy

We just need to find some way to bring “Payola” to Bittorrent.

I mean, after all, this was a staple of the music business for decades, and everybody understood how this increased exposure to “free” music boosted music sales. It was soooo unfair when the feds stepped in and put a stop to it. But the internet is comparatively an unregulated wild-west.

Maybe those ISOhunt guys (the ones who were just forced to shut down their torrents search-engine site, because it was supposedly illegal) could get the RIAA and MPAA to employ them as “promoters” getting the Big Studios products more “exposure” on the remaining torrent indexing sites.

After all, even if that is illegal, it doesn’t seem that the executives at the big labels would have any real problem with it. It would be their own clever “marketing and promotion”, rather than some dirty outsiders “pirating” their stuff and stealing their product.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“Failing to capitalize on new opportunities” – It’s on the wall at the MPAA headquarters.

Indeed. Netflix now has more subscribers in the US than HBO…
http://www.theguardian.com/media/2013/oct/22/netflix-40m-subscribers-global-growth

The MAFIAA have a very long and detailed history of shooting themselves in the foot every chance they get.

Ima Fish (profile) says:

Breaking Bad would have had a much smaller audience, and likely a much shorter run.

That’s sort of speculative. However, we can say with certainty that piracy expands the potential audience.

With a bad show, such expansion will not help. However, for a quality show, it will increase the number of viewers/fans. It’s up to the producers to monetize that growth. It appears that in the case of Breaking Bad, they did a pretty good job in that respect.

Anonymous Coward says:

“As MPAA Insists TV Piracy Is So Harmful, Breaking Bad Creator Explains How Piracy Helped”

The problem is now all these creators have alternative ways of advertising and distributing their content. They no longer rely as heavily on the entrenched incumbents (as the title of this demonstrates) and the MPAA is not happy about that.

The MPAA does not care about creators they only care about maintaining their position as the middlemen (at the expense of both creators and the public).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“If people hadn’t pirated it, Breaking Bad would have had a much smaller audience, and likely a much shorter run.”

but the point is that the MPAA wants the success of the show to hinge more heavily on them and their (stolen) distribution channels (ie: the ones that they have more exclusive access to thanks to govt established broadcasting and cableco monopolies). What this does is it offers content creators a competitive distribution channel which takes away the bargaining power and influence the MPAA have and they don’t like this.

IP law is not and has never been about the authors. The parasite middlemen have been the ones to lobby for it (behind closed doors as in SOPA) and to get disproportional representation (through campaign contributions and revolving door favors) and it exists to serve them at the expense of both authors and the public.

The_Doorman says:

Except you forgot the most important part of the quote

?I see that in some ways illegal downloading has helped us, certainly in terms of brand awareness, so that?s a good side.?

?The downside is that a lot of folks who worked on the show would?ve made more money, myself included. But you know, like with most things, there?s two sides to the coin,? he said.

?We all need to eat, we all need to get paid, and I get paid very well, I can?t complain.?

Anonymous Coward says:

the problem is, the ‘Breaking Bad’ creator is only one person who is speaking sense and truth. there isn’t a single person with any power who is going to believe what he says!
on the other hand, Dodd, the MPAA top knob, is an ex-senator, has numerous friends who are still in Congress that are bribed rotten by Hollywood and the entertainment industries, who openly threatened to withdraw funding from Obama, he lies like a pig in shit, having had plenty of coaching whilst in Congress. why would they not be believed?

jupiterkansas (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The MPAA can go to congress all it wants to fix the film industry’s problems, but the film industry is going to go where the money is.

If years of lobbying congress doesn’t reap additional revenue, and the creators of the content are saying “more people watching our stuff is better, even if it’s not all paid for” then eventually the method that makes the most money is going to win.

You can argue all day about how much MORE money they could make if this happened or that happened, but in the end, they’re going to find the way that makes the most money in the current system.

Fighting piracy with lawsuits and lobbying to protect revenues will eventually cost more than it brings in (if it doesn’t already).

The easiest way to fight piracy is making their content as cheaply and quickly and easily available as possible all over the world.

Anything that makes content more expensive, makes you wait for it, or makes it difficult to access increases piracy – and a balance will be found where a certain amount of piracy will be tolerate for the amount of revenue they can bring in.

Anonymous Coward says:

the MPAA want to stop ‘file sharing’ so they can get more people to buy, or so they say. they know that the number buying wont surge. there may be a slight increase but not a lot. the reason being, as is stated, there wont be so many people aware of the various shows, so there wont be as many watching anyway. the biggest problem with the MPAA theory is the MPAA theory itself! but if the internet were to fold tomorrow (and given what the USG and it’s security agencies are doing, it wont be long!), the industries would be in the same boat as they are now with the exception being they would have nothing to blame for their short sightedness and constant fuck ups that cost them money!

Anonymous Coward says:

Except, that’s wrong. Or, rather, it’s fantasy-world. If people hadn’t pirated it, Breaking Bad would have had a much smaller audience, and likely a much shorter run.

No, it’s you who are wrong on at least one point. Future syndication drives the number of episodes more than anything else. A show needs five seasons or more to command top dollar. If a program is getting decent ratings, generally the company will push it out five seasons to increase its value down the road. As far as whether BB would have had a much smaller audience, that’s debatable. And as Gilligan said, if the downloads would have been legal, he and the cast and crew WOULD have made more money.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“Future syndication drives the number of episodes more than anything else. A show needs five seasons or more to command top dollar. If a program is getting decent ratings, generally the company will push it out five seasons to increase its value down the road.”

Generally speaking it takes 5 full seasons and 100 episodes for this, not 5 short seasons totaling 62 episodes like Breaking Bad.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

To accept that last hypothetical WOULD involves more than just imagining if the downloads were legal. You have to also imagine that everyone who downloaded did so as an alternative to paying for the content, that none of them were too poor to afford it, or in a county where its not available, or would have even known about it in order to pay for it if a friend hadn’t downloaded it and told them they should watch it. If we’re willing to suspend disbelief to that degree, you might as well speculate about what the world would be like if there were no rampant greed or economic turmoil or wealth inequality. It’s a nice fantasy, but you clearly don’t understand economics or human nature.

Anonymous Coward says:

It's like saying...

“Boy, ever since we cut our price in half, we’ve more than quadrupled our sales – and have become very successful! On the downside, if we could have charged all those people full price, we would be astronomically rich beyond our wildest dreams!”

Yeah guy – economics don’t work that way. Long before you would have gotten rich, someone else would have priced a similar product lower than yours because they’re offering what people want at a price they’re willing to pay.

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