Studios Need To Replace BitTorrent, Not Punish Its Users

Recently we learned the details of how the "Six Strikes" punishments will work. For those who don't already know, the production studios made a deal with your ISP to notify — and then punish — you if you're caught using BitTorrent to (illegally) share movies online. Your ISP doesn't really care about this, but they likely made this deal so they can maintain safe harbor and say they're not at all complicit in your nefarious file-sharing actions. And it shows in the punishments they're all planning to levy. The worst punishment is a bandwidth reduction after six strikes that stays in place until you have a conversation with your ISP about what's right and what's wrong. It's like those speeders who take defensive driving courses to lower the cost of their speeding tickets. No one really thinks they're paying attention during those classes, right?

But this (somehow) makes the studios happy and, as I said, keeps your ISP from being blamed for your questionable downloading decisions. So here we are with everyone happy about the solution. Oh, yes, well, everyone happy except us, the consumers of BOTH of these businesses' products. Yes, we pay for bandwidth from our ISPs for sure, and I bet we'd all (OK, most of us) pay for movies if they'd simply let us have them when and how we want.

When and Why I use BitTorrent

I use BitTorrent as a complete last resort. I don't like it for a lot of reasons. It's not overly difficult, but there are solutions that are much easier to use. If I can download a movie or TV show from AppleTV or Amazon or Hulu+ even Netflix (though we gave up on them a while back and haven't missed it), I'll do that: it's simple and the prices are mostly fair.

However, if a movie I want to see isn't available through any of these sources, I can almost guarantee that a quick search of The Pirate Bay and a few hours of download time will make it available to me. Free. Ready to watch in most cases, or with a quick 45-minute Handbrake conversion in others. But sometimes those downloads aren't of an acceptable quality, and sometimes they aren't at all what I thought I was downloading in the first place. Even in the best case it takes a little waiting time and a moderate headache to get it to my TV.

The net: it's easier for me (way easier) if I can simply buy it and get exactly what I want. In most cases of using mature, existing services like AppleTV, Amazon, Redbox, Hulu+, Netflix, etc., I don't even have to leave the couch. Make all movies available to me on release day through one or more of those services (or another, new service that the studios like better) and I'll stop using BitTorrent forever because I now have a much-more-convenient alternative.

But What About The Movie Theaters?

Good question, and you're right: it's mostly the release delays that cause me to look with my pirate-patched eye at "alternative" sources. But here's the thing: the delay that theaters have negotiated between their release dates and the availability of these titles on DVD or streaming is nutso. It doesn't serve me, the consumer, at ALL. It solely serves the theaters and, in the minds of some execs, the studios.

It's not my job as the consumer to support the studios' business model, it's their job to change their business model to serve me.

And for those out there that whine that the movie studios would lose money releasing titles simultaneously through all channels (theater, DVD, streaming) I say take a look at any iPhone release. Throngs of people line up outside their Apple, AT&T and Verizon stores to get their hands on the new iPhone on release day even though most of them could easily just have pre-ordered it online and have Fedex deliver it to them in their pajamas at home. And they all pay the same price regardless. Different people want different things, and there are those who relish in the theater experience. It's a social thing, the screen is bigger, the sound is (likely) better, and you're part of a shared experience. Many people want that and will still want it regardless of other options.

The Declining Price Model

If the studios are still worried about losing money even after reading this, then just go with a declining price model. For the first month or two charge me $30 to stream the movie at home. Don't even let me buy it right away, just stream. That thirty bucks is not much different (on average) than what I'd pay to see the movie in the theater with my wife and/or kids, and if I want to save money I wait a few months and then it's cheaper and I can own it. But at least I have the option of watching it when and where I want. It's that classic algorithm: there are three things that matter (when, where, how much) and I get to pick two of them. Fine. I'm an American consumer, I'm used to this.

But just sell it to me when and where I want it, would you please? I'd love to have the convenience of not stealing from you.