Stop killing pirates and just let me watch TV

piratetvI’VE HEARD the arguments many times before about piracy and how we should combat it, but for me, we’re asking the wrong question. We shouldn’t be asking what we can do to make piracy harder, because blatantly, that just hasn’t worked. ‘The Pirate Bay’ is still up and running, despite the fact it’s been a target for content creators and law enforcement for the best part of a decade. Imprisoning web hosts and shelling out for court fees does not seem to have stemmed the flow of piracy one bit, so perhaps the time has come for another angle.

Perhaps we should stop looking to make piracy harder, and begin looking to make accessing content easier, even if we still pay for it. People pirate content because it’s free and sometimes because it’s easier to access that way. All we need to do is make it so sublimely easy to pay a minimal amount, that finding a low risk torrent with enough seeds is too much effort. Execution it seems, is more difficult.

There are two models we use at the moment. Advertising subsidizing content, and paywall. Advertising is great for creating free content, it eschews the cost of payment from the consumer to an outside body in return for moments of a consumer’s time. However, the longevity and garishness of these moments are something which have driven many to piracy. Ad-blockers can only do so much, and if I am forced to watch three advertisements prior to the content I wish to consume; frankly, it’s taking the piss.

However, advertising has a fatal flaw, in that we become a product. Our information is being sold based on our online profiles – what kind of content we watch, when we watch it, what other websites we use, what products we purchase online, etc. – and piracy simply doesn’t have that caveat. In fact, most pirates will go out of their way, not to have their identity taken in any way for reasons which I’m sure are obvious. Most of the time, advertising doesn’t bother me, and there is a place for it in the future. I don’t mind targeted ads too much; give me an ad about Graduate Jobsites or cheap software over My Little Pony any day of the week, but whichever way I look at it, private companies with stockpiles of personal information of that size is definitely a little disconcerting right? I’m sure Edward Snowden would agree.

Paywalls and hard copies do away with this advertising for the most part (there are always twenty trailers for TV shows and movies which didn’t quite make it to prime-time or theatres, but the DVD Menu button is your friend here).

Game of Thrones is the best example . If you don’t want to switch cable provider or get HBO Go in the US, or get yourself a Sky subscription in the UK, you have to wait until the season comes out on DVD. There is NO other legitimate way of watching it other than these, and any fan of the series, or any other series in fact, will know how spoilers ruin your enjoyment of the content. Therefore, the ability to consume the content ‘as-and-when’ is paramount.

Services such as Amazon Prime, iTunes and Netflix are latching on to this fast, and paying minimal amounts for fast access is proving successful. Buying a ‘Series Pass’ on iTunes, or having a subscription to Netflix allows you perfect ‘as-and-when’ access, but at £5.99 a month for Netflix/LoveFilm Instant or up to £34.99 for an iTunes Series Pass, it may be out of some people’s price range, especially the people with most time on their hands. *cough* STUDENTS *cough*. And that’s without even coming to terms with the fact that none of these services can hold a candle to the catalogue available to pirates. From the top 55 shows listed under IMDB: Netflix and LoveFilm Instant offer 17 and 14 respectively, iTunes offers 46 and torrentbutler (a website hosting links to pirated content) offers 49. However, of the 40 which both iTunes and torrentbutler had, iTunes was lacking in total 28 of the seasons torrentbutler could boast, most of which are the most recent, decreasing the probability of people using iTunes for as-and-when access to content, not to mention the hundreds of pounds more to use the service.**

For me though, iTunes is so close to being the way forward; it successfully landed millions of dollars and pounds spent by children in-app purchasing on gems in Clash of Clans or jewels in Smurfs Village, and more recently by thousands of people hooked on Candy Crush Saga buying lives, all because you only had to enter a password?

I’m not going to go and find a study on how humans find it easier to spend money when it doesn’t actually feel like they’re spending money with real life green cash because I believe it’s probably self-evident, but if I had the choice of pirating an episode of Game Of Thrones for free and possibly getting caught, or simply clicking a button which spent 99p in the background to get the content seconds after it had finished airing… I WOULD PROBABLY CLICK THE FUCKING BUTTON.

Game Of Thrones is THE most pirated show ever. Period. BGR reports it gets 80% more torrent traction than ANY other show on TV, with 5.2 million illegal downloads per episode. 5.2 million… imagine if just half of that number decided to click the button. Not only that, but it reports that HBO, the show’s producers and network state that being the most pirated show ever is both a “compliment” and “a good thing as it leads to “more penetration, more paying subs, more health for HBO and more importantly, less reliance on advertising.

It’s not whether we should pay or how much we should pay or whether different regions should pay. It’s not a question of asking who out of the content creators, providers or dissemination should be the one to take the cut, it’s a question of changing how we actually arrive at the content. Because god knows I’ll pay a tenner to watch my favourite shows. Netflix has it well on the way and iTunes is so almost there.

**Spreadsheet of TV data available here.