Technically Speaking: The real issues behind piracy

Corey McMahon

Are you excited to watch the second season premiere of “Game of Thrones” this Sunday? Probably not. Because odds are, if you are reading this, you are a student and aren’t paying for HBO. If you want to watch it, or any other show on a premium subscriber network, then you face the same dilemma that many others do: pony up $80 a month for an HBO subscription or don’t watch at all. Oh, you’re willing to pay for just that show? Too bad – you can’t without paying for cable and a bunch of other shows that you most likely don’t want.

A webcomic on a website called “The Oatmeal” summed up the situation well. In the comic, a man wants to watch “Game of Thrones,” but he doesn’t have HBO. He thinks it might be on iTunes, Netflix, or Amazon but realizes that he is completely unable to access the show even though he’s willing to pay for it. That’s because, outside of those who pay for HBO through an expensive cable plan, the show’s first season was not available for purchase until almost a year after the season began.

This example underscores the irony of Hollywood’s war on piracy. Piracy isn’t a big problem because most people aren’t willing to pay for pirated content, though those people do exist. The real problem is that producers don’t make their content easy enough to access given the changing ways that viewers are consuming television and movies.

These changing habits are not uniform, but a couple of things about media consumption ring true pretty much across the board. First off, people are acquiring more devices – smartphones and tablets, in addition to computers and televisions – and they want to watch their TV shows and movies on whichever device they have nearby. They’re also less likely to tune in for a preset schedule. In short, the growing demand is for content that can be watched on one’s own time and on one’s own terms.

To clarify, let’s look back at another form of media that once faced a similar problem: music. There was once a time – all they way back in the 1990s! – when the music industry faced a serious piracy issue. Napster and similar services were sapping almost all the demand for music and fewer people were buying music legally. But what led people to skip the Tower Records down the street and search for the latest Hanson album on Napster instead? Well, for the first time, average people wanted their music on their computers instead of on a spinning disc. The record companies weren’t catering to that demand, so when an illegal service was, consumers hopped aboard. Finally a company wised up to this and made a legal service that was just as easily accessible, and that service is now the number one music store in the world. That company, as you may have guessed, is called Apple, and that service is iTunes.

A variety of products and services are already trying to do for television and movies exactly what iTunes did for music, which is cater to the changing ways people want to consume content. But they face an uphill battle when dealing with companies who think that the best way to fight piracy is to make their content more difficult to access. In reality, they should be making it easier.