Middle-class Piracy in Movies and Television

To recap, I’ve written lately about middle-class piracy and how it affects the software industry. My friend is a pirate, but he pays for things when it’s convenient, and not riddled with anti-piracy measures that detract from the overall experience (say, Iron Lore Entertainment’s software method discussed last time, or limiting music burns to CD, etc).

Last time, I discussed the software industry, and how most vendors destroy a product in an effort to protect it from piracy — and how Stardock (and similarly, Steam) are actually doing things right to make legitimate customers feel appreciated.

This time – movies and television.

Cable Companies

My friend, the pirate, does not like cable companies. I don’t, either. Actually, I utterly despise them – he just thinks they’re annoying whereas I’d be happy to see them all utterly destroyed.


Because they FUCKING SUCK. Charter charged me $20 a month to get eight local channels, six random “basic cable” networks, two channels that told us about how awesome it would be to have Charter-on-demand, and FOUR channels devoted to infomercials.

We canceled our cable television. I haven’t regretted this decision.

My friend, the pirate, hasn’t had cable for something like four years. He says, “why pay for that colossal ripoff when you’ve got torrents?”


I didn’t know much about these until recently (recent, in my lifetime, means about a year ago). They are like ++(Kazaa++). Sorry for the uber-geekism just then, but seriously, the technology behind torrents is pretty freakin’ awesome. For legal purposes, torrents serve as a way for a small company to get their product out to the world without using up a ton of bandwidth. Since the torrent is a peer-to-peer protocol, rabid fans actually offer up their idle bandwidth for the product in question.

For piracy, of course, this is a goldmine of free goodies. Apparently torrents are especially good for television. (I don’t know how that can make sense – it’s just digital file transfers – why would it be better for one file format than another?)

My friend doesn’t pay for cable television. He sometimes pays for a series on DVD. But mostly, he just downloads the shows he wants to watch.

Why? Because it’s convenient as hell. No worrying about the lame TV schedule. No trying to set up a VCR or DVR. No waiting for the episodes to come out on DVD. Torrent the episode the day it airs, and watch it before your friends do! It’s just too damned easy.


Hulu seems like they have a chance to solve this. Actually, hulu.com is just one of many streaming television providers, and Amazon.com even sells episodes and seasons in their “unboxed” collections.

But I’ll focus on hulu, because it’s a pretty good “common denominator” in the streaming media world. They’re apparently a joint venture sponsored by FOX and NBC (hence so many shows (and movies) from those two). What they do is offer various full episodes of television shows, with very short commercials. Instantly. On demand. Watch what you want when you have time. Great idea, and I’ve enjoyed a lot of stuff there.

In theory, this is in fact the paradise that could stop middle-class television piracy. I don’t mean “slow” or “diminish” or anything similar — I mean “stop.” Middle-class piracy, once again, is primarily about laziness. If they can get their “fix” for free, instantly, and only have to deal with watching 2 minutes of commercials for a 45-minute show, they generally will prefer this over torrents. Torrents take time. Torrents have a small risk associated with them. Torrents released the same day as a TV broadcast are rarely high quality.

In theory, this combination gives a site like hulu.com the ability to completely obsolete all middle-class TV and move piracy. But why is it only “in theory?” Simple:

They dun fukk’d up, boy

I can’t blame hulu for the mistakes – I assume it’s the networks being morons (yeah, big surprise there eh?).

For most shows that are still airing, we get the last 5 episodes if we’re lucky. In the cases of Family Guy and The Simpsons, both featuring a wealth of old episodes to watch, we get the last three for FG and the last five Simpsons.

So people are expected to watch within a few weeks. For viewers who have been following a show since day one, I suppose it works out well enough. But for any show that hasn’t been seen in its entirety by everybody in the world, I call it a huge mistake — people may end up just torrenting the episodes they can’t find. Overall, it’s not a huge loss for shows like The Simpsons or Family Guy — newcomers can just start up anywhere in the series. But it’s not a huge gain, either. And what about story-driven shows?

Bones, something I’ve just started getting into (my friend, the pirate, says it’s kind of boring, but he’s an idiot so he can STFU), has all of season 1 available on hulu. They recently took down the few season two episodes they had. And season three? You guessed it – last five episodes. When I’m done with season one, I’ll probably ask my friend, the pirate, if he has season two for me to borrow. I won’t ask stupid questions like, “Hey, did you get this illegally?”

Then the networks make it worse. I’m a rabid Battlestar Galactica fan. But Charter, being the dimwits they are, want to charge me over $50 a month to get sci-fi (“extended basic” or something). So how does sci-fi make it better for me on hulu and sci-fi.com’s rewind? THEY DON’T. They pull this same “last-five-episodes” shit. And they show up online a full week after they broadcast. So if I want to start anew with BSG, my best option is a torrent. If I want to watch an episode that I know my friends will be discussing on Monday, my best option is a torrent. Way to go, network idiots.

They get it! …or do they?

I just can’t figure why the networks would do this when they seemed to finally get it! They’re getting you hooked just to pull the plug? It actually encourages piracy, if you ask me. You go from instant accessibility of television to total lockdown. So your options – buy episodes one at a time (around $1.89 per episode!) or torrent.

What do you think the average hulu user will do?

Hulu users are geeks. Right now very few non-geeks are willing to watch TV and movies from their computers. Hell, very few non-geeks even know that’s possible at this point. So basically we have a crowd that’s primarily geeky being screwed yet again by the networks. This geeky crowd, for the most part, is aware of torrents.

I’m betting enough of them will torrent that it’ll totally screw the brilliance behind hulu. All because of stupid networks making stupid decisions once again. And what’s more, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that streaming video is called a failure, even though the true failure, is once again the idiots in charge. The decisions of executives, completely out of touch with the middle-class consumer, will end up destroying a system that could actually end (or at least severely cut back) middle-class piracy!

It’s a win-win situation that appears doomed to fail.

Good news?

Unfortunately I don’t have a lot of good news here. Amazon sells episodes fairly cheap, but torrents are cheaper. And unlike software, TV and movies don’t suffer from being “poorly cracked” or needing updates, so to beat torrents in this industry, you need to be incredibly competitive. So far, the online experience falls far short, and Amazon’s prices definitely don’t come close for somebody who wants to watch a lot of TV.

The movies on hulu are nice – that’s good news, right? Well, only a little. There are only a few dozen movies up there, and it doesn’t seem like they’re adding movies fast at all. Plus, of the movies they have, maybe 10 are actually worth watching. So… not a big win in my book.

ABC shows all of Lost on their site. And in HD. Those episodes are about the clearest things I’ve ever watched in my entire fucking life. I think real life is no better quality. I’m not saying this as a metaphor or a hyperbole – those episodes are ridiculously amazing. Yes, and I have bad vision, so it probably doesn’t take a lot to impress me.

While that would seem like a piece of good news, it’s the only series ABC puts up in full – the rest seem to be the last few episodes, just like other networks. Makes me more than willing to watch Lost, but nothing else. And makes me think Lost is nothing more than a digital loss leader.

Netflix has this same concept as hulu, but with a better selection, no commercials, and a reasonable price! They’re the good news!! Except that the networks seem to castrate them as well. New episodes were not available last time I checked (only prior seasons’ episodes, if I was lucky), and in most cases they don’t even have more than a season of a given show. Dr. Who (the new one from 2005 or so) had season one available when I was a Netflix customer. To watch the other seasons I would have had to wait for DVDs to ship. I’m lazy, damn it! I’m not my friend, but I have his mentality. I canceled Netflix because the waiting time just wasn’t worth it. Had their on-demand service been better, I would have absolutely stayed with them. (again, not likely their faults as much as the networks)

So if anybody is doing it right, I have yet to stumble upon them. What a letdown. Here we are in an age where the cable companies should be completely obsolete! Television and movies should be easily viewed on demand (and made affordable – or at least worth their price). And yet, I think Fred Flintstone was doing about as well as we are. No wonder middle-class pirates are so prevalent here!

There are a slew of wonderful ideas for improvement here that I won’t even try to cover (go down that road and everybody whines about the ones you missed – so screw you all), and yet the networks are so trapped in the slowly crumbling business models of the past. It’s kind of sad, but mostly just makes me really not care when somebody pirates even good television (for the record, I tend to get annoyed about hearing good software get pirated).

Stay tuned!

“Stay tuned” is getting old. I’ll try for something more interesting next time…

…which is when I’m ending this series with a very brief piece about piracy in music, and my final thoughts. Just like Jerry Springer.

Yes, and since it’s my final article I guess my concern over the wording of “Stay tuned” is moot. I love when problems solve themselves.

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