Why Piracy Wins: Convenience, Timeliness

I had a nice little chat with the PR representative from TeleToon (the Canadian equivalent of Cartoon Network) the other week. She had contacted me for some help contacting TechVibes, and so I took the opportunity to ask when the new season of The Venture Brothers would be airing in Canada. She stated they were working to get it on the air sometime in the new year.

This is, in a word, suicide.

At this point, Cartoon Network had already broadcast half the season in the US already. I pointed out to the PR representative that because the show’s demographic skews heavily toward the geek-set, many of their viewers know how to obtain the show easily, albeit illegally, online using tools such as Miro and sites like tvRSS.net. By the time TeleToon airs the show in the new year, no one will care. She acknowledged this was probably true, and that they were trying to turn around shows faster.

I had a similar conversation at the Bridging Media conference when I talked with Gary Marcuse, a programming executive with the CBC. I asked him when the latest season of Doctor Who and Torchwood would be coming to Canada. Again, the latest seasons were already being broadcast in the UK but nowhere to be found in Canada, despite the fact that both shows are co-produced by the CBC and the BBC. Gary didn’t know the details of arrangement with the BBC, but guessed that the delay was likely due to either licensing legalities, or the terms of the co-production deal.

While iTunes has solved the problem of distributing US programming, the same isn’t true for international programming. While British classics such as Peep Show and the IT Crowd have been running for years, they haven’t made it onto iTunes, despite the sales success of other BBC shows distributed there. You can’t even buy the DVDs of these shows in North America. Your only option to get these programs currently is to buy the non-North American DVDs and a region-free DVD player – a solution which will become illegal if C-61 (“the Canadian DMCA”) becomes law.

I can’t believe that this is problem of manpower – after all, how hard is it to upload a file to the iTunes servers? Or outsource pressing of DVDs to a third party? Not very hard at all. In all likelihood the real culprit here is the nuances of licensing and international law. I imagine there’s a lot of guys spending a lot of time in dimly-lit rooms arguing over fine print for each and every country. No wonder they’re not in a hurry to do this. It sounds horrible.

The incremental approach to media distribution is what’s undermining consumers’ patience. This is why people pirate media – because it’s just damn easier and faster than waiting. In the meantime, media companies are leaving a lot of money on the table by not leveraging their assets to the fullest possible extent.

As consumers have altered their media consumption habits over the past decade, Big Media has tried every trick in the book to maintain the status quo: suing their customers into submission, deploying technological countermeasures, and lobbying for legislation to protect and perpetuate their crumbling business model. But they’ve ignored the obvious solution – we’re willing to pay, but we’re not willing to wait.

We want the good stuff, and we want it now.