Digital piracy thrives when there are no normative alternatives. We as a society will only accept the risk and bother of illegally downloading content when the legal alternative fails to deliver an equally accessible and reasonable priced in an acceptable format.
For the past 15 years, digital content piracy thrived because legal options were not viable.
- It was too hard to get to legal content in the formats we wanted. Streaming and downloadable options were not available.
- Content was being bucketed into bulk purchases (albums) whereby we were forced to pay for content we did not want (the 7 songs nobody really liked) in order to access the content we intended to purchase (the 2 songs we cared for).
- The product was defined increasingly irrelevant analog distribution metaphors such physical disks at physical retailers. The cost of digital distribution is far lower than the cost of printing and shipping disks. And so we as a society pirated music, tv shows and movies.
Over the past ten years and the past few weeks in particular, we have heard an incredible amount about solutions for cracking down on piracy within the US and Europe. I believe that the global piracy market is far bigger than the US piracy market. And it is shame that the US content owners are pushing the rest of the planet towards piracy.
Global piracy occurs because content owners are enforcing artificial analog distribution metaphors, in this case analog boarders in a borderless digital world. And much like the demise of the CD gave way to the rise of the 99 cent single, these artificial restrictions will give way to demand. With or without legal options, the walls have already come down.
While the US market has developed meaningful alternatives to piracy at acceptably low costs, these alternatives are rarely if ever available to the rest of the global population. With no viable, competitive and legal alternative, piracy is rampant. Considering that many blockbuster movies pull in as much if not more international markets than they do in domestic box offices, there is a tremendous revenue opportunity here.
There is a mountain of money being left on the table.
Last night's Superbowl was a great game. In the weekend leading up to the game popular pirate sports streaming site First Row was taken down twice. Every time they went down, they relocated to a new domain and resumed their service. First Row had five streams running of the pre-game! The quality of First Row's streams leave much to be desired. But with no legal alternative, this is where the world goes to watch their games online.
Yes, it was a great thing that the NFL, NBC and Verizon streamed last night's game. But the only legal option for international streaming was a $19.99 playoffs package from NFL.com. Much like music album that gave way to the single, the NFL is going to need to begin offering single game streaming packages to the global market.
It's time we ended this game of whack-a-mole and built a longer term solution. While Hulu and BBC iPlayer are great options, the global demand for content powers a pirate market that spills over into domestic markets with legal options. The only way to combat piracy is to embrace digital distribution. True digital distribution. Global digital distribution.
If pirates with little financial incentive can make it work, I hope a multi-billion dollar industry can figure it out.