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Game of Downloads: HBO’s Bad Spin on Media Piracy

Does stealing premium TV inspire people to buy it eventually?

by
Susan L.M. Goldberg

Bio

August 14, 2013 - 11:00 am
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piracy

In The Media Piracy Report, a 3 year study of media piracy in emerging economies published by Columbia University in 2011, researchers concluded “that the problem of piracy is better conceived as a failure of affordable access to media in legal markets. …High prices for media goods, low incomes, and cheap digital technologies are the main ingredients of global media piracy.”

Arguably you don’t need to go to as far as India or Bolivia to find the nexus of high-priced media, low incomes and cheap technology; your average college dorm will do. Perhaps that’s why Napster sucked up so much of the campus’s T3 line (I know, I’m ancient) in my college days. Researchers also concluded that:

Competition is good. The chief predictor of low prices in legal media markets is the presence of strong domestic companies that compete for local audiences and consumers. In the developing world, where global film, music, and software companies dominate the market, such conditions are largely absent.

We may have been downloading before it was illegal, but we were also buying. Our shelves were lined with DVDs, videos, and CDs, not from big box stores, but from used record stores, those “strong domestic companies that compete for local consumers,” so to speak. They’re the ones that kept the media affordable, making it more appealing to buy that TV show on DVD in the pretty box with the liner notes than to wait around for it to download and sit on a hard drive.

Unfortunately, many of those mom and pop shops, feeling the squeeze of global chains and Internet sales, have gone the way of the dinosaurs, taking that good — and necessary — competition with them. It’s a good thing that digital technology, on the other hand, has become so much cheaper and more easily accessible, isn’t it?

In the digital age where the Internet poses the greatest threat to small business it would seem wise for media execs to praise piracy as a means to an end. Downloading, much like marijuana, is a gateway drug that gets the viewers addicted and leaves them wanting more. But, at what cost? $131 million in corporate income? 71,060 American jobs lost? The proliferation of an ethically questionable cultural behavior?

What’s the value in that?

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Susan L.M. Goldberg is a writer with a Master's in Radio, Television & Film and a PhD in Life who would be happy roaming the fields of Prince Edward Island with Anne of Green Gables, were it not for her strong belief in the axiom "all that is required for evil to prevail is for good women to do nothing." She prefers the career title "Renaissance Woman" and would happily be bar mates with Ann Coulter, Camille Paglia and Dorothy Parker. Her writing tends towards the intersection of culture, politics and faith with the interest in starting, not stopping the discussion. Follow her on Twitter @SLMGoldberg and @winegirlblog.

Comments are closed.

Top Rated Comments   
Citing the RIAA is not the way to win arguments. They're a pack of lying thugs.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Quoting the RIAA about piracy is like quoting the Mexican Cartel on the dangers of drug legalization. The dubious study RIAA cites assumes that all piracy are lost sales, for which there is simply no evidence.

And there is a lot to the concept that pirated copies lead to sales of legitimate copies and related merchandize. Certainly, there are studies that show that free downloads and DRM free products lead to more sales such as this one:
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/10/111007113944.htm


But mostly I don't think you understand fully understand the tradeoffs, excessive zeal to stop piracy can annoy one's legitimate customers.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (9)
All Comments   (9)
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I work in the cable industry, and while I don't think theft leads to sales (if you can get it free, you will) we have stopped treating people who steal cable like criminals and more like potential customers. Our auditing group doesn't just disconnect an "Unauthorized Viewer" or UV (our new label for them BTW-- much softer than "illegal viewer")-- they knock on the door and attempt to make a sale. It's surprisingly effective.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
What an asinine article.

Personally I haven't had cable t.v. in ~ 10 years. I stream EVERYTHING. Why? For I've embraced technology though more importantly I can't STAND the infinite-like commercials, the laugh track-laden unfunny sitcoms, the Illiberal ahem, 'news networks' etc.,

There are so many virus-free streaming sites it's futile and quite frankly big brother-like to attempt in doing so.

Lastly using RIAA 'data' is a joke, right?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Citing the RIAA is not the way to win arguments. They're a pack of lying thugs.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
In my experience piracy never replaced sales, but it may have replaced renting... maybe Netflix should be up-in-arms over piracy. I have seen piracy directly lead to legitimate sales too, especially after iTunes popularized the buy-individual-songs model replacing the album. It's a win for me, I get only the songs I want for less - and a win for them, they sold more than otherwise. Ah progress!

I don't think you can be taken seriously anymore quoting "lost jobs" figures without serious justification - it has become a dubious populist economic measure for demagogues.

"..excessive zeal to stop piracy can annoy one's legitimate customers." Haha - yes, thank you Robin!!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I have a feeling (though no concrete knowledge) that those "loss" numbers are a little disingenuous in the sense that they count every person who has unauthorized copy/access in terms of list price. This isn't quite realistic because full retail price is rarely the price paid, but more importantly it assumes that each of these people would instead purchase these items if they didn't access the content illegally.

The "loss" is not so cut and dried for the simple reasons illuded in the first quote: Most of that lost revinue wouldn't appear even in the absence of illegality. And therefore there is a dynamic where, through piracy, the value placed on the items increases to many people in the market. For example by pirating a show one has passing interest in one may become engaged to the point of being willing to pay for access (a season on DVD, previous seasons, subscription for future seasons).

It doesn't make piracy right, but it is an illegal version of the HBO free weekend. Free samples work, apparently even if they are stolen. It sounds like a chapter for Freakonomics.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Quoting the RIAA about piracy is like quoting the Mexican Cartel on the dangers of drug legalization. The dubious study RIAA cites assumes that all piracy are lost sales, for which there is simply no evidence.

And there is a lot to the concept that pirated copies lead to sales of legitimate copies and related merchandize. Certainly, there are studies that show that free downloads and DRM free products lead to more sales such as this one:
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/10/111007113944.htm


But mostly I don't think you understand fully understand the tradeoffs, excessive zeal to stop piracy can annoy one's legitimate customers.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I wonder if another study can be done with "free samples" leading to sales. For example, for a period of time, the first 3 of the 4 seasons of "Justified" were free to stream for Amazon Prime customers. How many viewed those three seasons, then continued to purchase the 4th season?

Using subscription services as a data set (since it's easier than determining where all the illegal copies are) you could get a picture as to how many subscribers then went on to purchase either additional episodes, movies, media, etc. from the series or artist. Compare that to subscribers who didn't view the free stuff and their purchases.

Frankly I'd be surprised if this hasn't been done several times already. It's the whole point behind the streaming model. Make it easy to get (both in cost and effort) to do the future sale.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
At least some of the book series from Baen work that way. Get the first 1-2 free, and if they're any good, end up buying the rest.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"I wonder if another study can be done with "free samples" leading to sales."

Sure. Ghirardelli Chocolates.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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