Convenience Matters: People Will Still 'Pirate' Content That Is Available For Free In Less Convenient Packages

from the stating-the-obvious dept

About a year ago, some commentators were positively shocked that tons of folks still got the latest Radiohead album via BitTorrent rather than the band's own pay-what-you-want site, which allowed people to get the music for free. However, the real point (which many seemed to miss) is that the reason people will often access the content via unauthorized sources isn't just because it's free, but because it's more convenient and doesn't require leaping over annoying hurdles. Plus, for many, it's a single interface and a single source for all the content they want.

So, it should come as no surprise at all that plenty of folks are still downloading unauthorized versions of TV shows that are available in authorized streams for free. First off, downloading the content lets users watch the content when and where they want -- and allows them to archive it or watch it on other devices. Second, it's just a lot more convenient for many users to get the content that way.

Once again, it looks like the entertainment industry got hung up on that whole "free" bit, when that's hardly all there is to the equation. Just because they put something up for free doesn't mean they've effectively competed with the alternatives. When the alternatives offer more and better "features" and much greater convenience, the "free" part is only one of multiple selling points. Simply putting content up for free without matching those other features means that plenty of folks are still going to get the content elsewhere. Rather than fighting it, it's about time companies learned ways to use this to their own advantage.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    SteveD, Sep 8th, 2008 @ 4:23am

    Quality still matters

    A big issue with the Radiohead album was the "pay what you want" MP3's were at a very low bitrate; abysmal quality. I've never before been able to hear the difference between an MP3 and an uncompressed format.

    I guess the band figured people would pay for the full-quality CD, but instead people went out and got the good quality downloads from torrent sites. Radiohead were trying to sell the wrong thing.

    The other big issue with TV streaming is that a lot of these sites are region-locked. An increasing number of video streaming sites within the US are locked to international traffic, while only Chinese sites and youtube are left open.

    Its not just an American problem either; the most pirated show in the world is supposedly Top Gear from the UK.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 8th, 2008 @ 5:08am

    Heres the deal

    Consumers believe when they buy something its thiers. Content creators beleive when a consumer buys something from them, they are actually buying a limited liscense to access that content. People do not like this, it just doesnt feel right. When a consumer purchases something, they want to be able to use as they see fit, where and when they see fit. Anything else feels broken, or like a jip.

     

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  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 8th, 2008 @ 5:11am

    Re: Quality still matters

    "Its not just an American problem either; the most pirated show in the world is supposedly Top Gear from the UK."


    and yet every year this show, its personalities and producers (and the BBC), make more and more money from it? The show just gets bigger and bigger and bigger? Is this show doing so well becuase its pirated so much, or maybe becuase they have found the secret to preventing piracy? No, I think it does so well, cause its a damn good show.

     

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    PaulT (profile), Sep 8th, 2008 @ 5:28am

    Location...

    Another big issue is location - something that a lot of these studies seem to miss (and not mentioned in the article). Even with successful series, some countries have to wait 6+ months after the US transmission date to watch the new season of a show, sometimes a year or more for less mainstream shows. Or, they can download it hours after the US premier via BT.

    There's also the issue of re-watching. If you really enjoyed the show or you just plain forgot to set your DVR, you have to wait for a re-run or DVD release to get another chance to watch it. Or, you can download it at any time you choose via BT.

    Guess what? Block your audience from getting it legitimately, and they'll find illegitimate means to get it. This is more true of TV shows than other media since people don't pay directly for any given show, and will usually consider themselves entitled to watch, e.g. a Fox show for free if their monthly sub includes Fox.

    The networks can get around this by making their own DRM, location-independent downloads available shortly after transmission, and people would happily buy them. It's down to them (and the various contracts they've agreed to with foreign distributors) as to whether they'll bother...

     

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  5.  
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    PaulT (profile), Sep 8th, 2008 @ 5:34am

    Re: Location...

    That was meant to say "DRM-free..."

     

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  6.  
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    Haywood, Sep 8th, 2008 @ 5:55am

    I really prefer AVIs

    I have a nice media center PC (Vista 64) & it does very well with AVI files, it will stream over the net, but not nearly as well. That is likely due to my dodgy DSL connection. I also, particularly like British crime dramas, that isn't possible with any offered service in my neighborhood, so I download. Another problem with the streaming video, I'd have to set down my remote and use the mouse. The only hope I see for the broadcasters would be to mimic the Bit torrent folks, who really do give the public what they want.

     

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  7.  
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    Ed, Sep 8th, 2008 @ 6:10am

    I can relate

    I can relate to this. I had a situation where I tried to watch the same foreign film on DVD (scratched) them streamed (didn't have subtitles) so I ended up "stealing" it after two other options failed. That sort of experience, especially with college students and younger, could train them to go for the more-reliable versions first.

     

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  8.  
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    AJ, Sep 8th, 2008 @ 6:14am

    Free streams

    Do the free 'streams' come embedded with all the commercials? I download the torrents because someone takes the time to edit out all the commercials. Given that they put almost 20 minutes of commercials in an hour show, it sure saves me time not to have to either skip or watch what I don't care to see.

    AJ
    (boycottmcdonalds dot com)

     

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  9.  
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    Tom, Sep 8th, 2008 @ 6:29am

    TV shows and BT

    I agree completely with Anon Coward re the gap between content providers notion that they are only leasing you the right to watch their product vs. viewers perception that they have 'bought' the rights to view a show either by purchasing a DVD or watching the broadcasters adverts.

    How they can cry foul and use words like 'pirate' & 'steal' over content that is broadcast freely over the airways to television sets and VCR's/DVR's is way beyond me.

    Perfect example of wanting your cake and eating it too.

     

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    San Antonio Lawyer, Sep 8th, 2008 @ 7:03am

    Thank you for a very informative article. Keep it up!

     

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    zechs88, Sep 8th, 2008 @ 7:21am

    I can relate to

    I believe that when I buy something I own it. When I rent something I don't own it - but I don't pay for the price of the whole thing either.

     

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  12.  
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    Graychin, Sep 8th, 2008 @ 7:31am

    A "stolen" movie comes without FBI and Interpol warnings (in both English and French), without legal disclaimers that opinions expressed are not those of the studio, and without annoying previews of other movies.

    It's something for people who think that they are in the business of selling plastic disks to think about.

     

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  13.  
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    WDS, Sep 8th, 2008 @ 7:43am

    How NOT to do it

    I was trying to watch a missed episode of a USA Network show. Every time you stepped through the select process, there was a commercial. Not just when you got to the video you wanted. "Watch full episodes", commercial; "Episodes of 'Show I wanted'", commercial; etc, etc,

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 8th, 2008 @ 8:22am

    I agree with the convenience thing completely.

    If there was a P2P network that *charged* for downloads (say... I dunno, 5 cents a track or something), but it had all the albums and singles from every band signed to all major record labels on high quality, DRM-free MP3s (or the format of your choice), I would honestly use that and pay the small fee rather than spend time trying to hunt down a well seeded, high quality torrent of a relatively obscure band that not many people like. Same with TV-Shows.

    And yes, it's highly annoying not living in the US when it comes to TV-Shows. Take a recent example, The Venture Brothers (Adult Swim cartoon). In the UK we don't really get adult swim, we get 2-3 hours of old repeats after midnight on another channel when that station closes for the night. The US, however, got a new episode each week as well as a streamed version of the show (at a slightly lower quality) available the night before, but only to the US (can't stream it from the UK, for example). And the DVDs already for sale are only region 1, there aren't any region 2 DVDs. That is pretty silly when literally everyone I know in the UK actively enjoys the show, and we *all* have to go through "pirate" methods just to enjoy it.
    The same with Mystery Science Theater 3000, which I don't understand. It was a popular show. It ran for 10 years. And yet still, the only DVDs available are Region 1.

    And as Graychin said, pirated DVDs don't come with anti-piracy warnings, which is a huge plus. One of my DVDs has copyright notices at the end of the film in *every single language of Europe*, one after the other, and it's unskippable. So that's a solid 5-6 minutes of "warning, this is protected under x law" in about 20 different languages, and the same appears on my futurama and family guy DVDs (along with a stupid "you wouldn't steal a car or snatch a purse from an old lady so don't download movies because these things are the same" movie before the show starts). Ridiculous.

    /rant

     

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  15.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 8th, 2008 @ 8:57am

    Re:

    A lot of US shows take far too long to make it over the Atlantic, if indeed they make it at all. Venture brothers is a great example; everyone I know loves it yet everyone watches pirate copies. I didn't know it was even broadcast in the UK.

    National boundaries make less and less sense in this age of global media; why not let people outside the US stream US networks? Why not let people outside the UK stream the BBC iPlayer?

    I heard three of the big UK networks were coming together to make a combined download/streaming service. Although a nod in the right direction its not going far enough; what we really need is a legit international downloading service.

     

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  16.  
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    LostSailor, Sep 8th, 2008 @ 8:58am

    Not just free, but enhanced?

    Simply putting content up for free without matching those other features means that plenty of folks are still going to get the content elsewhere. Rather than fighting it, it's about time companies learned ways to use this to their own advantage.


    So, producers or music/tv/films should not just make their content available on the web for free, they should enhance it for internet copying and provide it all in one place to make free copying as convenient as possible to the folks who, if such copying in not convenient to them, will just take it anyway?

    In the comments here, it seems it's not just the convenience of being able to download via BitTorrent or other piracy service, but also the fact that piracy warnings are absent...wouldn't want to see those...but even short commercials are absent.

    I understand your argument about 'infinite goods' but there's still the issue that much of this music/tv/film is quite expensive to produce and the people involved with the production, including the artists, do still want to make a living--or maybe even get rich!-- from their work. If they're not getting paid for it, and, indeed, have to make enhancements to make free copying more convenient, their not going to be making it for much longer.

     

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  17.  
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    CMG, Sep 8th, 2008 @ 9:00am

    Pirate TV Shows

    I still download the latest episodes of Prison Break, yet I could name around 4 sites that will let you watch it via a stream legitimately. It just means I only have to use HD speed instead of broadband and I can watch it whenever, and I don't have to worry about the stream being taken down. 'tis better knowing you have something there and then when you want it.

    -CMG

    BTW - The new series of Prison Break rocks!

     

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  18.  
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    Sierra Night Tide, Sep 8th, 2008 @ 9:09am

    If the industry offered a free copy with the BS (commercials, sign up lists, warnings ect...) and a pay version deleting all of these annoying things would anyone buy?

    I think I would. I hate giving my email address and being sent buy, watch bewares... I hate commercials and I hate fast forwarding or having to sit through the BS. If the industry offered a version without all of the BS during the show and no sign ups I think I would consider it.

     

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  19.  
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    Benjie, Sep 8th, 2008 @ 10:03am

    MP3 quality

    "A big issue with the Radiohead album was the "pay what you want" MP3's were at a very low bitrate; abysmal quality. I've never before been able to hear the difference between an MP3 and an uncompressed format."

    MP3 that's less than 256kbit/s sounds noticably worse than the uncompressed CD. It's just hard to notice when not listening side by side

     

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  20.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 8th, 2008 @ 10:05am

    What about an on demand website? When you pay a cable company, they have all these "on demand" channels, where you can pick what you would like to watch and watch it whenever, and you pay a single monthly fee. What if you paid say, $15 a month and had unlimited access? I know that Zune does this for music, but what about other media? I would love to pay $5 or $10 or even $20 a month to watch whatever show I wanted. I would pay it. My monitor is better than my TV, I'd rather watch on my computer. So give me an interactive, online "cable" website where everything is on demand, and I'd pay for it.

     

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  21.  
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    Mike (profile), Sep 8th, 2008 @ 10:23am

    Re: Not just free, but enhanced?

    I understand your argument about 'infinite goods' but there's still the issue that much of this music/tv/film is quite expensive to produce and the people involved with the production, including the artists, do still want to make a living--or maybe even get rich!-- from their work.

    Then you don't understand the argument about infinite goods. No one is saying they don't get paid from their work. In fact, the argument is that if you understand what to give away and what to sell, you actually make MORE money from your work.

    If they're not getting paid for it,

    No one ever said they don't get paid.

     

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  22.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 8th, 2008 @ 10:48am

    Re:

    You still can't take it with you. On Demand works only in certain situations. It's still "locked down" and it's not portable.

    Torrents give you the ability to take it anywhere you want and put it on any device with which it'll work: laptop, desktop, portable player, iPod, etc.

    If it's streaming, the quality is going to take a hit. If someone uploads the torrent, you can get it in the same quality it was originally aired.

     

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  23.  
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    JB (profile), Sep 8th, 2008 @ 10:49am

    Re: Not just free, but enhanced?

    LostSailor,

    I understand fully that the content, of which you speak, is relatively expensive to create. What you don't seem to understand is that by creating the goods, they have already spent money and are simply recouping the loss.

    There are many ways to recover what was spent that also allow that content to be 'sold' to a customer. Most of these companies feel they have overall rights to the creation even after it has been 'sold,' or in their mind 'leased,' to the customer.

    Once something is created, it can be copied and sold as a replica. These replicas can be infinite and therefore the value of them drops. What must be done to bring value back to the replica? You could add more works to it, but then you are pouring more lost money into it. You could place ads in the content, but then consumers could be come annoyed. You could reduce the number of units produced, but that means only collectors will buy. You could even charge a rental for the content, but even then the customer would be angry.

    So, what is a creator to do? Make content that their audience wants, while keeping the cost of creation low. Remove hindrances to the customer and allow them to place their own specific value on your content.

    For those that made it all the way through, thank you for reading, and I expect nothing in return.

     

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  24.  
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    crystalattice (profile), Sep 8th, 2008 @ 8:48pm

    Region locking blows

    I'm currently in the military stationed in Iraq. I have tried to watch "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog" via Hulu but it's blocked because I'm not in the US.

    I could pay for it on iTunes (assuming iTunes isn't region locked like Hulu) or I can look for a torrent. Not having seen it, I'd rather not take the chance that I won't enjoy it (I learned that lesson thanks to music CDs). So that leaves Bittorrent.

    That's one of the main reasons people pirate.

     

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  25.  
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    JaneD, Sep 9th, 2008 @ 6:00am

    Yes, exactly. You could totally convince me to pay if you offered TV content (for example) in a convenient manner and at the same time as when US consumers get it. I don't want to wait half a year for a new episode that's being talked about NOW. Set up a proper entertainment portal that I in the Netherlands can access too, with a variety of subscriptions and I'm there. Until that time, Bittorrent is my friend.

     

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  26.  
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    Austin, Sep 11th, 2008 @ 4:49pm

    One of the big benefits that pirated versions of things is that they are free in the senses of both freedom and beer. For example, I regularly watch Brothers and Sisters on ABC, except for a period of a month or so when I didn't get a chance to. Normally, I watch it online on the ABC website, so I went there-- only to discover that all but the last four or five episodes had been removed! I don't mind advertisements, but the content was simply not available if I chose to go the "legal" route (and no, I don't buy them from iTunes-- why would I pay for something online I get on TV for free?), so I ended up getting the episodes via BitTorrent.

     

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  27.  
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    Motorcycle Fairings, Nov 20th, 2008 @ 7:30pm

    What a great post. Thanks for sharing it!

     

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  28.  
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    Home Decor, Jan 7th, 2009 @ 12:15pm

    Haywood, are you trying to encourage the use of torrents to download material that is forbidden?

     

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