Where’s my 21st-century television?

Gabe Newell said something that caught my eye the other day. As part of a broader interview with The Cambridge Student, Newell shared some powerful words of wisdom on the topic of piracy and copy protection:

In general, we think there is a fundamental misconception about piracy. Piracy is almost always a service problem and not a pricing problem. For example, if a pirate offers a product anywhere in the world, 24 x 7, purchasable from the convenience of your personal computer, and the legal provider says the product is region-locked, will come to your country 3 months after the US release, and can only be purchased at a brick and mortar store, then the pirate’s service is more valuable. Most DRM solutions diminish the value of the product by either directly restricting a customers use or by creating uncertainty.
Our goal is to create greater service value than pirates, and this has been successful enough for us that piracy is basically a non-issue for our company. For example, prior to entering the Russian market, we were told that Russia was a waste of time because everyone would pirate our products. Russia is now about to become our largest market in Europe.

If you’re a media industry executive who campaigns to paint pirates as amoral thieves who must be drawn and quartered, those words probably feel like a slap in the face. If you’re an average, Internet-savvy adult, they probably ring truer than anything anyone’s ever said about piracy—if only because of their eloquence.

I know Newell’s right because I can relate. Many years ago, I was just another kid who downloaded MP3s and games off KaZaA and BitTorrent. I would make a point to purchase physical copies of the content I liked, but I would usually leave the jewel cases and boxes unopened. Retail purchases were a show of support for the content creators, not a means of obtaining their work.

Today, I buy almost all of my music on iTunes and almost all of my games on Steam. The exceptions are indie songs distributed through the artists’ websites and games inexplicably walled off from the world’s most popular PC game distribution service (*coughBattlefield3cough*). I use iTunes and Steam because, as Newell says, they provide a better service than the pirates do. I can get any content I want instantly, I know the quality is up to snuff, there are no viruses or cracks to worry about, and I get to support the content creators without letting shrink-wrapped jewel cases pile up in my apartment.

Valve can claim credit for making online game distribution appealing, and Apple undoubtedly deserves props for doing the same with music. Before iTunes came along, record labels were cluelessly trying to make up for declining CD sales with awkward, unappealing, and restrictive services. Apple didn’t invent the concept of digital music distribution, but in true Apple tradition, it was the first to do it right. The move away from digitally locked songs and the introduction of iCloud have only made iTunes more appealing as the years have gone by.

Thanks to Apple and Valve, we’re in a good place with music and PC games. Unfortunately, watching one’s weekly slate of TV shows is still, inexplicably and frustratingly, a royal pain in the ass.

Yes, you can spend a hundred dollars every month on a carefully customized cable TV service, and then spend valuable time configuring your DVR to record the shows you want to watch. You can pay $1.99 per episode on iTunes, ensuring that you never give obscure shows a chance and that you curb your consumption of nightly programs like The Daily Show. You can use Hulu and watch recent episodes for free, with commercial breaks, the day after they air (provided you live in the United States). You can even scour the websites of different cable networks in the hope that they, too, let you stream recent shows for free.

Or… you can hop on your favorite BiTorrent tracker and download high-definition, commercial-free rips of any TV show on the planet at most an hour after it airs.

Many of the legit offerings are doing things almost right, but the pirates still provide a better service, hands down. It’s not even funny. We all know what the problem is and what needs to be done, so why haven’t the big networks gotten the message yet?

Here’s what I want: a single service like Hulu Plus or Netflix that regroups shows from all major channels (including Comedy Central and HBO), lets me watch all past seasons of shows, and offers new episodes immediately after they finish airing. I want this service to be available in Canada as well as the United States. I want to pay a flat subscription fee, and I’m prepared to live with brief commercial breaks on top of that. I want to be able to cancel my cable TV subscription, because I never watch live TV anyway, and to use my PC or on my girlfriend’s Xbox to watch shows. I will pay good money for this service ($50 or more a month doesn’t sound unreasonable), and I will use it every day.

Why is nobody willing to take my money and provide this service in exchange? My demands aren’t outlandish. All I’m asking for, really, is an on-demand alternative to live TV that doesn’t suck. Save for sports, news, and American Idol, I think we can all agree that live television is a relic of the last century. It’s high time to give 21st-century television a 21st-century platform on which to flourish, but I fear that won’t happen until a dashing, Steve Jobs-esque executive once again strong-arms content providers into doing what’s best for their customers. I hope someone rises to the challenge, because every day, entirely too many good TV shows are pirated by people simply following the path of least resistance. And that’s just sad.

Comments closed
    • AntiSp4wn
    • 8 years ago

    Finally! Someone puts into words what I’ve been repeating for years. Tremendous article, I could not agree more in every way.

    • dashbarron
    • 8 years ago

    [quote<] Most DRM solutions diminish the value of the product by either directly restricting a customers use or by creating uncertainty. [/quote<] Geesh, this is a joke. I've listened to Newell a few times and coming from the man pushing Steam down our throats this doesn't mean a lot. DRM solution? How about looking at what they've done with Witcher 2. Put out a better product and not just another rehash on a FPS, Valve. Steam works conveniently for most people just because it was the first easy, [b<]cheap[/b<] content delivery system. But it is not without several quirks, some of which are agonizingly hard to overcome.

    • indeego
    • 8 years ago

    Why?

    – Content providers want different amounts of money for different content. There’s a lot more content types with video/TV/Sports than music/games. This is why no steam/iTunes equivalent. Netflix isn’t even 1% of all movies/tv/documentaries/sports.
    – Legacy licensing agreements.
    – Legacy Distribution methods are profitable now, preserving that is good for shareholders.

    Your “wants” are exactly what Gabe is claiming will not work. Content providers just shlepping their media onto a single service doesn’t afford them the flexibility in distribution they have now.

    So what you ask for is neither beneficial to the content producers, the distributors, nor the consumers, and isn’t realistic.

      • BobbinThreadbare
      • 8 years ago

      I wish there was a steam for movies and tv shows. Let me buy them digitally, with no quality reduction, and attach them to an account.

        • Usacomp2k3
        • 8 years ago

        There is. Amazon Unbox. Microsoft Zune Marketplace. iTunes. I think Sony has a similar setup.

    • IntelMole
    • 8 years ago

    If you wanted an indication of how this could work, look at BBC iPlayer.

    Pay your TV license fee, watch live TV, stream whatever you like to your PS3, PC … whatever.

    That license fee is £130/year or so.

    What Cyril wants woudl be entirely within reach, if only the content providers were dumb pipes.

      • Game_boy
      • 8 years ago

      The BBC/ITV/C4 digital services combined make all the UK content worth watching anyway, and BBC news IS the best. The only thing stopping our house cancelling satellite TV is sports and American show imports.

    • evilpaul
    • 8 years ago

    Personally, I think no service like you describe, Cyril, is because the companies that provide Internet connections also provide TV services and want you to have to pay for both. (Despite how subpar television service is.)

    • Kougar
    • 8 years ago

    I have to fully agree with everything that you stated! I watch almost all of my content via computer simply because the cable+dvr system is more trouble to use. The DVR either fails to record the right show due to some glitch, or records a rerun marked as “new” in the schedule. Or the schedule is wrong and it records some random show.

    On top of that, there are a few shows I watch which are shown in Canada, or parts of the US, but not actually THIS part of the US, forcing me to resort to online alternatives if I even want to watch it at all. [b<]There are still TV shows written and recorded for US viewing, yet as much as half of the US never has any legal means of actually watching it[/b<], even if they have an expensive cable package. The tangled web of networks and broadcast licenses itself is posing a huge problem here I think. As more of a side note, one can buy physical (or pirate) 1080P Blu-Ray content, but the best quality cable TV (any cable network in the US, save a very few, select markets with Verizon) is still only capable of even displaying is 720p. 1080i is a step backwards in quality from 720p so its not even worth a mention here. I think the very fact that Hulu and Netflix both exist illustrates the current TV market situation is no longer meeting the needs of people in this new online, on-demand era. But I'm sure no TV network will want to even consider developing an online content delivery system that would come remotely close to drawing people away from watching their content via TV. They won't want to jeopardize that, and so I think it will be more than a few years before the progression of technology eventually forces their hand to change how they do business.

    • cynan
    • 8 years ago

    [i<]Why is nobody willing to take my money and provide this service in exchange?[/i<] The answer to this question, at least in Canada, is simple. Canadian content distribution policies are not 21st century. They allow media conglomorates to establish virtual monopolies and these companies buy the Canadian licenses to television shows. In a nutshell, the reason why you can't get Hulu or many of the television shows you can on American Netflix is because companies like Rogers or Bell (who are owning more and more of the Candian Networks) won't let you. I think most of the blame can be placed on organizations like the CRTC (Canadian Radio and Telecomunications Commission) who seemingly have no interest in opening up distribution to more "21st century" models. All to often, they behave like they are in the pockets of these media giants. One thing is for certain, companies like Rogers, Shaw, Bell, etc, who supply the bulk of the cable and ISP services in Canada certainly don't want to change the status quo. And neither do the American studios who create and sell this content as the Canadian market is so small that I suppose most of them could care less as long as they are selling to someone in Canada. So that leaves government intervention, ie, the CRTC. And at the rate they're going, we're not likely to see any sort of 21st century model in Canada for another 20 years. The reason a company like Netflix doens't have just-aired network shows or [hardly any] premium network content (HBO, Showtime) is also simple. Cost. Charging $8/month, Netflix simply can't afford to pay HBO enough to get their content to make it worth HBO's while and risk relationships HBO has with current cable companies that buy their content. If Netflix started charging $30 to $50.month, maybe this could change, but then much of the appeal of Netflix is gone vs a regular cable subscription. Furthermore, Netflix would no longer be able to claim that they are merely a "supplemental service" to cable. They would be throwing down the gauntlet and pissing off or at least severely threatening a lot of the companies that carry their service into the homes of their customers. Netflix realizes what a precarious situation they are in in this regard, and they also realize that the only way through is achieving a critical mass of customers - which hopefully they are close to. Once they get a large enough following, then they can start making Apple-esque content demands. However, this will likely come with a drastic increase in Netflix subscription cost, as they must surely be operating at a loss and will have to pay considerably more for the premium or recently aired content. The only reason why it worked so well with Apple and music (if you like Itunes, anyway) is that Apple was able to come in to a market where the precendent for downloading music had already been popularized years prior with peer-to-peer sharing services such as Napster. Enough people were familiar with this model, that, together with the success of the Ipod, the plumet in CD sales (wide-spread lack of interest in physical media for music), and the relative lack of serious competition, Apple was able to come in and basically take over the market. The same climate hasn't yet occured for cable TV. Many people still subscribe to cable - even those that download the odd TV episode using torrents. Then there is the added layer of complexity of cable companies also being ISPs, which leads to things like repeated attempts to restrict usage of said provided internet service to protect their own interests. Furthermore, because they are ISPs, they are still generating revenue to provide the very services which are competing against them. Bottom line, I think the biggest hurdle to your "21st century TV" model are the larger media companies like Time Warner, etc, who have built their empire on not only distributing media and communications, but on [i<]dictating how[/i<] this is to be distributed to maximize their own proffits. Unless sufficient pressure can be exerted on them (ie, losing customers to Netflix, government regulation, market demand for their service models), as happened to the music industry, then why should the status quo change?

      • dpaus
      • 8 years ago

      [quote<]All to often, they (the CRTC) behave like they are in the pockets of these media giants[/quote<] You are aware that 11 of the 13 people on the CRTC Board are former Rogers, Bell or Telus executives, right?

        • cynan
        • 8 years ago

        ,,, Whose portfolios are likely heavily comprised of shares of these companies for which they formerly worked.

        Yeah. That’s exactly how to populate a non-partisan comittee. At least the federal government doesn’t seem to hesitate overuling their most blatantly biased rulings, which only makes me wonder what the point of the CRTC is anyway. Definitely seems like it’s time to go back to the drawing board when it comes to Canadian federal regulation of telecumunications and related business practices.

    • Metalianman
    • 8 years ago

    Stephen Fry said something along those lines back in 2009 iTunes Festival in London. For those who don’t know Stephen Fry is a very well known Actor/Comedian/Author/Journalist in UK with the gift of public speaking. It was a very nice speech which can be found here: [url<]http://www.stephenfry.com/2009/07/27/series-2-episode-4-itunes-live-festival/[/url<] that dwelled into what drives piracy and his own admittance of having used torrent sites for the same reason Cyril said, pirates offer better service! I believe it to be an interesting speech that would give you some perspective and you can form your own thoughts afterwards...

    • Turiel
    • 8 years ago

    I disagree. It has almost always been a pricing problem rather than a servicing problem for me. Even after watching trailers I’m afraid to buy any games for $60 because I’ll just get bored of it in less than a week. Shows how much trailers actually tell about the game itself. And I’m convinced that I live in a society where developers simply don’t give the effort of my $60 to make a decent game. Just look at MW3. Consumers have every reason to doubt the pricing system in the current market.

    And speaking of iTunes and Steam, I think they’re two of the most horrific creations America has ever made on the Internet. We needed a system where you could conveniently purchase music on the Internet. The solution? Sacrifice the freedom of having your purchased .mp3 file limited to a single company in an environment as open as the Internet. You’re basically signing a slave contract to ONE company, for the convenience of buying mp3 files to play in a shitty media player. And what did it result in? Idiots made iTunes so big that now you’re either forced to resolve to using a shitty media player just to buy music legally, or you’re an immoral pirate who’d prefer to use legal competition (other media players). And of course nobody is going to make a new system where you could purchase the .mp3 files conveniently, yet still be able to use it freely with any media player because “it’s not necessary anymore”, “there’s iTunes”, blah blah blah. iTunes effectively killed the true meaning of freedom of legal music on the Internet.

    Same exact thing with Steam. If you look at Koreans for example, they use an independent chat software (like AIM or ICQ) that is extremely efficient (low memory usage, simple install/use, etc) and game companies like Nexon provide the Nexon Game Manager that only runs when you need to start/update your games. Nexon only offers the Game Manager for the games it sponsors, so the software is optimized. Steam tries to offer both chatting and game updating software in one bulky P.O.S. that’s always having some form of problem with one game or another. And of course if you buy a game from somewhere like Amazon because it’s cheaper than Steam (as is usually the case), you’re not allowed to run it from Steam. Now idiots can’t even run Minecraft as an individual game; they need to run it through Steam, as if it’s some central nervous system they’ve cybernetically plugged themselves into. No wonder Steam fanboys went crazy with the spyware bullshit when Origin came out; they can’t stand to have more than one game manager because their brain can’t process the idea of variety.

    The Internet is HUGE. The market is HUGE. The ONLY reason iTunes and Steam dominates this side of the Internet is because idiots can’t accept the possibility of more efficient, more diverse options that offers competition and variety, and the primary reason that they can’t accept the possibility is because they’re too stupid and lazy to come out of the cave they live in.

      • cynan
      • 8 years ago

      “Mama always said, “idiots are as idiots do”.

      As long as the majority of digital music consumers (aka, your so-called idiots) are happy with being Apple fans, then Itunes reigns supreme. You or I may not like it, but Itunes is really a testament to how much Apple was able to corner the digital music market while everyone else was left sitting on their thumbs. Were they lucky that the Ipod was so successful right out of the gate? Perhaps. That doesn’t change reality.

      • gml_josea
      • 8 years ago

      [quote<]Now idiots can't even run Minecraft as an individual game; they need to run it through Steam[/quote<] Hmmm what? I'm pretty sure I've been playing Minecraft without Steam, both in linux and windows.

        • Pettytheft
        • 8 years ago

        Missed the point. People consistently talk about not purchasing a game unless it’s available on Steam. It’s like they can’t be bothered to use more than one service.

      • End User
      • 8 years ago

      [quote<]Sacrifice the freedom of having your purchased .mp3 file limited to a single company in an environment as open as the Internet.[/quote<] Huh?

      • heinsj24
      • 8 years ago

      There has been DRM-free music on iTune since 2009. I can play my iTunes purchased music on any “**** media player” that supports MP4 Audio. True, I must purchase it through iTunes, but once that is done I can play it on almost anything.

        • cynan
        • 8 years ago

        What about Apple Lossless formats? This is also stored in an MP4 container, but as I’m aware, these files do not play natively on any non-apple player (at least they don’t on Sandisk or Cowon players). As a result, if you want to buy lossless audio on Itunes and play in on a non Apple player, you need to transcode the file first.

        According to Wikipedia, Apple has apparently recently made their lossless codec open source, so maybe this will change. But as of right now,as far as I’m aware, you are still SOL with lossless content on Itunes if you don’t have an Ipod and don’t want to be limitted to play only on your computer.

        Tell me why Apple just couldn’t go with FLAC for lossless content? It is open source, so it would have cost them nothing and it is apparently very similar to the Apple lossless codec.

        I think the answer is pretty obvious: they wanted to sell more Ipods.

        It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to liken this to the grounds for the anti trust suits the feds pursued Microsoft with for not allowing open competition for internet browsers by integrating IE in Windows. But when Apple does something like this with lossless content – ie, effectively hindering access for competing players to play their format for no technical reason – no one bats an eye.

          • End User
          • 8 years ago

          [quote<]you are still SOL with lossless content on Itunes if you don't have an Ipod and don't want to be limitted to play only on your computer.[/quote<] I don't think music purchased from the iTunes store uses Apple Lossless.

    • kamikaziechameleon
    • 8 years ago

    Media is changing forever the day of people, regular people paying for comics, books, movies, music, TV shows and games is behind us. Google and steam have shown how providing services can be made free and soon I’m certain that media will be used to pull in customers and clients and then in traditional fashion access to us will be sold to businesses, adds, stats, viewer trends, whatever is theirs to sell as we become a statistic we will gain free legal access to content as price barriers deteriorate you’ll see a larger variety of content flood the markets independent development of all content will flourish like never before. I think this will totally change everything forever.

    and ontop of that these servicess will be platform agnostic. The only way content will be sold is if it is so. I can play limbo on my phone, get home and play on the tv… you get the idea. steam should come to smartphones and intro a mobile apps storefront for games you can carry from device to device.

    • kamikaziechameleon
    • 8 years ago

    “I’m prepared to live with brief commercial breaks on top of that.”-BLASHPHEMY!

    Seriously though a pay for service needs to be commercial free. If I have to watch commercials it should be free end of story. None of this pay for advertising BS!

    Google will provide this service I’m certain…. one day, I hope :/ I would also like to ask that they also support 1080p and surround sound. Thanks.

    • kamikaziechameleon
    • 8 years ago

    I’m really certain of one thing at this point, BF3 lost allot of money with the origin exclusive BS! I’ll demonstrate that some of my less informed pc friends were looking for it on steam at launch didn’t find it, didn’t see their friends playing it, went on with their lives until shopping black friday and seeing they could grab it for 30 dollars. I mean these aren’t even cost conscious consumers and they got it half off because its walled up behind origin. To add insult to injury origin is just plain bad, between a week selection(not even featuring all of their AAA catalog ?) it simply didn’t work for so long and even now just feels like it gets in the way and doesn’t integrate with battle log at all. BLAH RAGE!

    • squeeb
    • 8 years ago

    I pay for netflix, bro pays for Hulu+ and we share accounts. Thinking about getting an HD antenna for live sports on the local stations and then hopefully I can drop my ‘TV’ service all together.

    • FatherXmas
    • 8 years ago

    Well the 2nd part of the problem is having an ISP that is either capless or has a high enough cap per month (as well as high enough download speed) that you could watch 10-20 hours of hi-def TV per week as well as your normal surfing/gaming habits without costing you an arm and a leg.

    Unfortunately nearly all high speed ISPs are run by the cable industry (with the exception of Verizon FIOS) and they have little motivation to sell you such a service if you are dropping their bread and butter, cable TV.

    Also right now the content providers of Hollywood have adopted an income model that relies on charging the Cable and streaming companies a small fortune just to offer their programming. For cable they insist on bundling groups of channels in a must get all to get some arrangement where a popular standard package cable channel is tied to several niche channels. On top of that they make money by sell 1/2 season DVD packages of popular running shows to improve their income stream. They are deathly afraid all of that would go out the window if an a la cart system of streaming HDTV becomes a standard.

    Would I love to have a system where I could watch any TV program from any part of the world and time-shift it for my viewing enjoyment, you betcha. Will those content providers every allow such a beast out in the real world voluntarily, not unless they are kicking and screaming.

    • dpaus
    • 8 years ago

    [quote<]I never watch live TV anyway..... I think we can all agree that live television is a relic of the last century[/quote<] Yeah, those of us that still keep CNN running constantly in the background disagree.

      • UberGerbil
      • 8 years ago

      Not to mention everybody who watches sports, which is, last I checked, a pretty large and lucrative market. Much larger than the enthusiast/nerd “live TV is so last century” demo, anyway.

        • eofpi
        • 8 years ago

        ESPN3 works pretty well for the games it carries. Other sports networks, though, generally haven’t embraced free ad-supported streaming.

          • BobbinThreadbare
          • 8 years ago

          ESPN doesn’t show MNF on ESPN3, so even they haven’t fully embraced it. And the quality is worse than 1080p ESPN on my TV.

          It is pretty awesome though.

            • Usacomp2k3
            • 8 years ago

            There is no 1080p ESPN. It is broadcasted in 720p.

      • evilpaul
      • 8 years ago

      You literally cut off the first of a two part dependent clause on saying [quote<]Save for [b<]sports[/b<], [b<]news[/b<], and American Idol[/quote<] which would seem to include CNN, Fox News, etc despite them being sort of...bad.

        • derFunkenstein
        • 8 years ago

        Ya, talk about having a boner for intentionally taking stuff out of context.

          • dpaus
          • 8 years ago

          Ouch – since my day job involves directing our efforts with the Cyc/OpenCyc context engine, don’t let my boss hear that…

        • dpaus
        • 8 years ago

        A partial ‘my bad’ – chalk it up to the limitations of ASCII – my intent was to highlight the young whipper-snappers attitude about live TV (hence the inclusion of the ‘I never watch live TV’ quote) and contrast it to us old farts who not only remember a world when the word ‘surfing’ was said in conjunction with ‘channel’, not ‘web’, but who still live there. And we may be relics (hence the second quote), but we’re empowered relics 🙂

        CNN gets mind-numbingly repetitive after an hour or so (unless there’s a major crisis unfolding, in which case the window shortens to about 15 minutes), but Fox News is just mind-numbing from the moment you turn it on.

        I find I watch less and less televised sports all the time (which is doubtless why I didn’t include it). I much prefer to watch a local-league game, where I’m not subjected to endless interviews with sweaty kids pontificating about how they need to dig deep, come up with 110%, execute the coach’s vision, etc., etc. , over and over, ad nauseum.

    • dpaus
    • 8 years ago

    [quote<]I want this service to be available in Canada as well as the United States[/quote<] Within a paragraph or two of bemoaning region coding and geo-restrictions on releases, you turn right around and blithely dismiss 3/4s of the planet. Why should there be any restrictions on the availability of the content at all? EDIT: Ooops, shot the messenger; those comments were Gabe's, not Cyril's. Sorry, buddy!

    • zqw
    • 8 years ago

    It’s simply margin preservation. They know what you want, and they know it’s inevitible. My sister got her Comcast TV bill cut in half when she called to term the TV portion. I bet that’s pretty common. If you’re good at sounding sincere…

    When enough margin erodes, cable/content will move fast. They’ve been holding outsiders at bay via content licensing fees/terms: Netflix, Apple, Google, Hulu, etc.

    • ludi
    • 8 years ago

    I think Gabe’s “almost always” comments are a bit too broad, although they do correctly apply to most [i<]casual[/i<] piracy. As for why TV isn't there yet...I think it's just a timing issue. The era of high-quality downloadable video content is a lot younger than the era of downloadable MP3s and videogames. Those markets have adapted to the new reality because their old business models got challenged a lot earlier -- MP3s were circulating regularly on academic and large business networks in the mid-90s, and utilities like Limewire and Kazaa started showing up in the late 90s and early 00s; iTunes didn't arrive until 2001 and took a couple more years to become established and engender competitors, and hashing out licensing terms with all of the major content providers took much longer. Comparatively, the first deal in which a major content provider turned down cable in favor of online streaming was just signed in September of this year: [url<]http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/26/business/media/netflix-secures-streaming-deal-with-dreamworks.html?pagewanted=all[/url<] FWIW between that, and the fact that Hulu is a JV between three major studios (NBC, FOX, ABC), we may be getting close to a true "21st-century television" but it could be a couple more years yet.

    • Usacomp2k3
    • 8 years ago

    So which is it? You say that the distribution model of pay-by-use for music and games is great, and then say that the only way you’d like TV/movies is buffet-style? I think pay-by-use is definitely the way forwar, and that exists in the form of Amazon Unbox, iTunes, or Zune. However, the pricepoints of the per-episode are slightly out-of-whack. We’d pay way more to buy each episode than we do on the cable subscription. However, if the pricepoints were much lower, I don’t think anyone would have a problem with the current markets that exist.

    In short: It’s the pricing of the content, not the distribution, that bothers you.

      • Cyril
      • 8 years ago

      My point isn’t that the pay-by-use model made music and game piracy unnecessary. My point is that [i<]compelling legit services[/i<] made music and game piracy unnecessary. There was never an all-you-can-eat precedent for games and music, but there is with TV. People are used to surfing channels and watching whatever programs they like without having to whip out their credit cards at every turn. Taking that convenience away isn't the solution.

        • dpaus
        • 8 years ago

        [quote<]There was never an all-you-can-eat precedent for games and music[/quote<] Games, maybe not, but in the old days, sonny, we had something called 'radio' that teenagers could 'surf' (we called it 'tuning in' long before that old hippie added 'turn on' and 'drop out') to listen to whatever music they liked, and as much as their ears - or, more often, their parents' ears - could take, and yes, for free!

          • Cyril
          • 8 years ago

          Eh, radio is more of a soup kitchen than an all-you-can-eat buffet. There’s no way to choose what songs you listen to, the selection is limited to only certain songs by certain artists, and songs are sometimes clipped or censored. There’s a place for radio, certainly, but not as a primary consumption vehicle for music.

    • Forge
    • 8 years ago

    Sickbeard does all that for me. Even including my usenet service (supa dupa platinum diamond encrusted, baby!), it’s still massively less than cable. I have infrequent and one-time charges of 20-100$ (mainly for hard disks), and the recurring costs are around 30$/month. I’d love to go legit and get the same or similar service levels for a similar or slightly higher cost, but Hollywood is simply unwilling to even discuss it. Exactly as Gabe noted, the pirates outperform.

      • JJCDAD
      • 8 years ago

      Yep, unlimited usenet account + Sickbeard and there is no reason to pay for cable/satellite.

    • redwood36
    • 8 years ago

    I agree, Im trying to stave off my GFs request of a TV because really its a pretty outdated service.
    In reply to tay, how much do you pay for TV? I would say the pricing point should be 40 for basic cable, then like 10 bucks for other packages.

    You act like limitless service isnt something already served up by cable companies.

      • Ari Atari
      • 8 years ago

      But for that $50 can you watch any show at anytime anywhere in your house and on the road?

        • redwood36
        • 8 years ago

        welcome to the future? get more for the same amount of money? stay competitive?

          • Ari Atari
          • 8 years ago

          That’s the point he’s trying to make. It’s about time someone steps up and gives you more for the same price.

    • tay
    • 8 years ago

    I don’t mean to be a dick, but you want limitless service for $50 / month. These demands are obviously outlandish.

      • Cyril
      • 8 years ago

      Hulu Plus and Netflix offer almost what I want for $8 a month. $50+ a month for a more complete, timely service isn’t outlandish.

        • sweatshopking
        • 8 years ago

        no. it’s not outlandish at all. 50$ even sounds HIGH. besides sports, there’s not really anything that i think most people would miss. the problem is getting all the content providers to sign on. MS and Netflix, and apple are all doing their best. but, those old bastards are cranky, and don’t want to change the model.

      • FuturePastNow
      • 8 years ago

      How so?

      • Ari Atari
      • 8 years ago

      Only when you compare it to normal TV pricing does it become outlandish (which seems overpriced to begin with). Compare it to the compilation of every online service like Cyril did and it’s much more reasonable.

      • bcronce
      • 8 years ago

      edit: Off be a decimal… bleh.. ignore this

      131,704,730mil house holds in the USA. Assume 80% have cable/dish/etc. $50/month is a ~$52bil/month market or ~$600bil/year. That doesn’t include extra money we also pay for the internet.

      How is that outlandish? That’s plenty of money to divvy up among the major networks.

        • Peldor
        • 8 years ago

        You slipped a decimal. It’s more like $5 B/month, $60 B/year.

        To put in perspective the “21st century” markets of music and games, those are around 4% and 5% of monthly entertainment spending in the US (note games include all the consoles, not just PC). The “20th century” TV/DVD markets are around 25%.

        Video is a LOT bigger and the distribution channel of cable operators sure as shootin’ isn’t going to want to lose their cut by going to internet delivery.

      • dpaus
      • 8 years ago

      But paying Ashton Kutcher $2 million per episode for 2.5Men is reasonable in your mind? Or paying Leonardo diCaprio $77 million for two movies??

      Anyone looking for the financial motivation for TV/movie piracy need look no further than those two, although there’s a hundred other examples to back them up.

      • jensend
      • 8 years ago

      Tay is unquestionably right. Netflix and Hulu have only been able to have their pricing as low as they are because studios have seen them as relatively small sources of additional revenue rather than as competitors to their traditional revenue streams. As they realize that net-based services are going to cause a drastic decrease in theater, rental, and advertizing revenue, they won’t license that content as cheaply any more; you can already see this in Netflix’s price increase and the many studios that have pulled their content from Netflix. Cable television, with its fixed schedules, relatively limited selection, and included advertizing, often costs more than $50. Getting better service is going to cost more money.

      I for one am sick of this site’s editorial condoning of piracy. Sure, the moves publishers are making to try to cut down on it usually don’t make sense. But that doesn’t mean you have a moral right to somebody else’s work without paying them the price they are willing to offer it for.

      The sense of entitlement around here is sick. “I should be able to get everything I want, and if I pay for it at all I’ll pay the price I name rather than what producers are willing to sell to me for.” One might expect such whines from amoral adolescents, but not from adults.

        • Damage
        • 8 years ago

        [quote<]I for one am sick of this site's editorial condoning of piracy. Sure, the moves publishers are making to try to cut down on it usually don't make sense. But that doesn't mean you have a moral right to somebody else's work without paying them the price they are willing to offer it for.[/quote<] Totally agree, as does Cyril, I know. Hey, wait....

          • jensend
          • 8 years ago

          I’m not saying you [i<]encourage[/i<] piracy. But articles like this one keep claiming that all the blame lies with producers, that there isn't a moral issue, and that those who think there's any moral issue in question are out of touch with reality. Such as this: [quote<]If you're a media industry executive who campaigns to paint pirates as amoral thieves who must be drawn and quartered, those words probably feel like a slap in the face. If you're an average, Internet-savvy adult, they probably ring truer than anything anyone's ever said about piracy—if only because of their eloquence.[/quote<] I think that the difference between this quote and my paragraph you quoted above and claimed Cyril "totally agrees" with is pretty stark.

            • Damage
            • 8 years ago

            We’re not pirates, but we work with a platform too often condemned as being overrun by them. If it turns out that piracy is more a result of poor options for would-be customers than it is about people who simply wish to steal no matter what, well, that’s noteworthy. And so Cyril noted it.

            You’re free to make the complementary point that piracy is still wrong. I think that concept was implied in Cyril’s text, which was not condoning piracy but instead making a point about media middlemen doing a poor and/or counterproductive job.

            You seem to be reading more into Cyril’s text, and apparently into our other articles, and are “sick” of it.

            Well, good luck with that. When you find things that aren’t there in our text, we are going to have a devil of a time eliminating them.

            • Cyril
            • 8 years ago

            To add to what Scott said, pirating content is so easy that simply saying “it’s wrong” and providing half-baked legit alternatives doesn’t cut it. As Gabe Newell points out, you have to provide a service superior to what the pirates are offering, or people are going to follow the path of least resistance and pirate your content. It’s an unpleasant and unfortunate reality, but it’s a reality nonetheless—and ignoring it does everybody a disservice.

            The point of this blog post wasn’t to downplay the moral implications of piracy and blame the content creators and publishers. The point was to push for a solution that will actually get people to stop BitTorrenting TV shows.

            • jensend
            • 8 years ago

            Pirating will pretty much always be the path of least resistance unless people’s conscience does a little more resisting. Offering a more compelling product will bring in more customers. But most of those customers aren’t going to be people who would have pirated but decided not to because you made your product shinier. Most of those who would pirate will still pirate the content no matter what kind of service you give.

            Take for instance the Humble Indie Bundles. They attract quite a wide audience and make a pretty penny. As far as trying to provide a compelling service, they’ve done everything that could be asked for and more- DRM-free, unlimited downloads accessible forever, pay-what-you-want, you determine the money split, etc. Surely, according to what you’re claiming here, this should have practically eliminated piracy. But it actually did the opposite- not only did the number of pirates increase, the percentage of pirates increased too. See the [url=http://blog.wolfire.com/2010/05/Saving-a-penny—-pirating-the-Humble-Indie-Bundle<]Wolfire blog[/url<] for some info on that- the 25% figure is an extremely lowball estimate just for the number of pirates using shared links to the Humble Bundle servers; the games were mirrored on all kinds of torrent networks etc and got tons more traffic there. Trying to come up with technical solutions to moral problems is a losing game. Somehow people have to change their set of standards. I think that the crackdown on Napster helped a lot of everyday folks have a paradigm shift about the morality of copyright infringement; I can't think of anything else that has had much of an impact. The content industries have tried loads of "education" campaigns over the years -- from "Home Taping is Killing Music" and "Don't Copy That Floppy" to the present day-- but they've all been sappy, condescending, and alarmist rather than educating people about the facts and presenting a sound moral case.

            • Jambe
            • 8 years ago

            [quote<]Surely, according to what you're claiming here, this should have practically eliminated piracy. [/quote<] Nothing of the sort was claimed. Are you one of those "pirated copies are lost sales" types? Do you think most pirates would buy their stolen wares if they weren't available freely online? If, as you say, pirates will be pirates regardless of publisher QoS, what exactly are you advocating? Are you just rabble rousing or do you have some specific suggestions that run counter to the proven approaches of Valve, the Humble Bundle group, et al.? Pirating will [b<]always[/b<] be the path of least resistance (assuming we don't want a bastardized, draconian internet). Pragmatic content producers and publishers [i<]already[/i<] design their products and services for that paradigm and are [b<]thriving[/b<] in the digital economy. Gabe Newell and Valve get it, but there are others who grokked the same thing and are doing great — Trent Reznor, Jonathan Coulton, Supergiant Games; I could give you hundreds of examples given a few minutes. And then there are the big stupid leviathans of publishing (Ubisoft, EMI, Warner, and so on) which, by comparison, can't tell their booties from a putting green, and draw warranted ire for their stupidity. Do you really think content companies, especially the large change-averse ones, would [i<]ever[/i<] be perceived as trusted sources of ethical advice? Really? Even if they were thought of as respectable in modern culture, what "facts" would you suggest they "educate" the plebs about? The whole notion strikes me as creepily fascist, but then I am largely a leftist libertarian sort of person.

            • jensend
            • 8 years ago

            I’m not saying Valve or the Humble Bundle are doing anything wrong- far from it, I’m glad of the great service they provide and think they have great business models and will continue to be successful while many of the “stupid leviathans” you mention will inevitably go under- but I am saying that portraying those services as solutions to the piracy problem is farcical.

            Cyril can talk all he wants about how he wants marvelously great television service for a low price. While he’s at it, maybe he should mention that he’d also like a pony and a [url=http://home.howstuffworks.com/most-expensive-toilet-in-world.htm<]solid gold toilet[/url<]. But it's absurd to pretend that he's saying this for the industry's own good as a solution to the piracy problem. I didn't say content companies would ever be trusted sources of ethical advice; instead, I pointed out that they're the only ones who have tried large-scale "education" campaigns and that they've fallen flat on their face. Education about such issues is better handled by other institutions, and I'm not sure which ones or how they should handle it. Moral education is hard; people have been banging their heads over how moral education is even possible for at least the 2400 years since Plato's dialogues. Your mention of the "change-adverse" nature of content companies being an obstacle is apropos here. If citizens were better informed about copyright law and took time to consider the moral issues involved, I think they would likely do somewhat less pirating, to the benefit of content [i<]creators[/i<]. I also think they'd be much more supportive of efforts to completely overhaul the copyright system and return to the spirit of the Constitution's "limited times" - much to the detriment of large content [i<]corporations[/i<] who often depend greatly on >50yo works and aren't providing nearly as much new value to the public as they're getting.

            • cynan
            • 8 years ago

            [i<]Cyril can talk all he wants about how he wants marvelously great television service for a low price. While he's at it, maybe he should mention that he'd also like a pony and a solid gold toilet. But it's absurd to pretend that he's saying this for the industry's own good as a solution to the piracy problem.[/i<] My take was that Cyril was not condoning Piracy. I do, however, agree that he was not offering any clearly delineated methodology for ridding the Internets of piracy. However, I think that you are wrong in thinking that a company like Netflix or Hulu won't be able to provide some sort of all inclusive TV package, including recently released episodes and premium content (ie, HBO) for something in the ballpark of $50/month. This is, after all, on top of the $50/month or so you pay your ISP to be able to actually use this service. It's just that the time hasn't quite yet arrived. The main hurdles to such a system is not pricing, it is the current market ecosystem, which consist largely of these "leviathans" who want nothing more than to maintain the status quo that they have went to considerable effort to put in place. Companies like Time Warner, etc, want to be able to continue to secure exclusive deals to content so that they can continue to dictate not only how much, but [i<]how[/i<] content is accessed (the latter and former positively reinforce each other). As soon as these iron-fisted distribution models are broken (whether by enough customers defecting to Netflix, government intervention, etc), then something like the $50/month model Cyril suggests should be quite reasonable.

            • Jambe
            • 8 years ago

            (this is @jensend and cynan, I guess):

            Piracy is usually a specter raised by the “every stolen copy is a lost potential sale” crowd but 1) that’s not true and 2) even if it were true, the compromises we’d have to make to the nature of the internet to prevent said piracy wouldn’t be worth the benefits. It’s a very weak argument to fling around and is remarkably similar to how “child porn” and “e-stalking” and so on are brought up to justify draconian legislation. “WooOOooo, PIRACY! What’s that? You say plenty of companies are thriving despite releasing unlocked or easily-accessible content? YOU SIR, ARE A LIAR.”

            I’ll give jensen the moral education point. I personally don’t like such wishy-washy topics, though, and, as I said earlier, I find the “we must smarten them up” angle creepy and dangerous. If thousands of years of recorded history are any indication, it seems “people do what comes easily” is a pretty solid truism.

            As cynan indicated, the root problem of this whole issue is that the distribution models of yore are outmoded and in need of change, and the various empires built on those models are gasping and clawing in the throes of death. I say we should ignore the throes and even do what we can to end them. I do not want 95% of the channels in any television package, for example, and honestly, I don’t even want channels at all — I want a handful of shows from a few networks and to hell with the rest of it. Many modern consumers are of the same mind (“why do I pay for all this crap I never watch” is an extremely common sentiment).

            The problem with a la carte content is that it would necessarily fracture or outright destroy most networks and it would force telecoms to being providers of “dumb pipes”. That is exactly the position they don’t want to be in, because it would mean competition in the telecom market would be more straightforward and and top of that, they’d lose all the revenue from their bundling agreements, advertising, and own content (most of the major telecoms also own production companies or whole networks). The breakup and market-forced specialization of these conglomerated publisher-producers is very nearly a [b<]universal good thing[/b<]. Also, it's not all doom and gloom as the RIAA and others would have us believe. Take Leo Laporte's TWiT network for example. They reach an audience orders of magnitude smaller than that of a popular TV network, but their audience is more uniform in its interests and therefore TWiT's ad revenue is much higher per spot than, say, a TV network or radio station. It certainly smells like doom for the big labels and Baby Boomer media moguls and so forth... but that's a good thing.

            • sweatshopking
            • 8 years ago

            [url<]http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2011/11/viacom-so-devastated-by-piracy-that-ceo-only-gets-50m-raise.ars[/url<] oh. yeah. they're breaking my heart.

      • mnemonick
      • 8 years ago

      I think you’ve missed two things: there’s only so much time in a month, and Cyril’s talking about a (presumably secure) streaming service, not unlimited downloads.

      • faramir
      • 8 years ago

      Not really. While not offering every single show on the planet from decades gone there are quite some European ISPs who offer IPTV service and have their own media library. This means they deliver live TV streams (with more channels to choose from than cable operators offer to boot), give viewer the chance to pause or replay a movie at a later time (say you have something urgent to do right after a highly anticipated movice comes up – you go and do what you have to do and watch that same movice next evening) and allow watching of contents of their library at any time.

      The service costs 7-20 euros ($10-30) on top of the monthly FTTH or DSL internet connection fee, depending on assortment of services chosen, various discounts excluded.

      Eventually these providers will improve their media library even further, perhaps even consolidate their service with some large worldwide provider, plus prices are bound to go down. This is pretty close to what Cyril has in mind, I believe.

    • Klanky
    • 8 years ago

    Interesting. I guess for me, it’s never been about how easy it is. When I used to download songs off KaZaA and Napster, it was always about the money – I didn’t have any. If I wanted a brand new game as a kid, I didn’t have $50 lying around to buy it. Nowadays I legally obtain my content (honest!), and I usually buy it direct from the artist’s website or order through Amazon, or use Steam for games. I like jewel cases and CDs for music, but I know I’m in a minority there.

    I appreciate the point that if you make the service easier, people will use it. I think cost definitely plays a role in it though.

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