Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Digital “Piracy” of Broadcast Content

I’ve been pondering this since I read an article about recent P2P network traffic. It turns out that the vast majority of actual traffic is no longer music, but video. This has broadcast content providers concerned, since they don’t seem to want their product spread out of their control.

It seems to me they’re looking at this the wrong way. There are two fundamental truths that these producers need to consider:

  1. All information is subject to evolutionary pressure. That pressure pushes information into the hands of as broad an audience as possible. No “owner” can stop that.
  2. People are inherently lazy.
The first means that content providers, by providing material people want, are simply advancing the pressure on that content to get into the minds of a broader and broader audience. “Piracy,” as typically defined, is thus inevitable. The hope comes in the second. There is a small number of people dedicated to packaging “pirated” material for consumption by those that wish to consume it digitally. Most people so dedicated, are also motivated enough to trim out production credits and advertisement.

But, if producers themselves produced the content in the desired (digital, easily consumed) format, directly to the consumer, with the same, or even more convenient delivery mechanism, without the overshadowing threat of prosecution/persecution, they would have virtually complete control over the actual content. Most people don’t care enough to remove ads, if they have the content they want. And once they have that content, the pressure to find a version with the ads removed is dramatically lower than the pressure to obtain the content originally. Low enough that most won’t even bother.

So, content providers, rather than struggling against, essentially, their own success, should go into (or contract out) the direct digital content business. Produce neat little packages of content, wrap it around ads, credits, or other information that people will pay to get into consumers’ hands, and deliver it to as many people as humanly possible.

To get down to a real-life example: I missed the broadcast of the first episode of “The 4400” on the USA network. So, I decided to download it with BitTorrent. The copy I retrieved is HDTV quality, and has had all ads and most of the credits removed. It is exactly what I desire to watch. However, if USA had provided a download of the same (or even normal broadcast) quality material, with the original ads and credits intact, free, I would have retrieved that one instead, viewed at least a number of the commercials, and been satisfied.

So, as it stands now, the advertisers, and ultimately the broadcaster, lose out because they will not adapt to a new medium for information distribution.

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