Sunday, June 7, 2009

Sailing the digital seas

I have an imaginary friend, who I like to refer to as "my evil twin". Most days, my evil twin is dressed in black, performing evil ninja missions to bring down governments, or carrying vengeance to my imaginary enemies in the form of poisoned blades and curt japanese whispers.

Occasionally, my evil twin discards his ninja costume and instead dons the jaunty garb of a pirate, sailing the digital seas in search of digital ships to digitally plunder. "Arr", he cries, as he digitally stabs upstanding navy members while buckling his swash on the way to another stash of digital booty.

Of course, I'm not referring to real piracy - I'm referring to downloading TV shows and movies. Downloading content from the internet is about as far from real piracy as you can possibly get. For starters, there are no ships involved, unless you count the Pirate Bay logo. There's also no sea. There's also a distinct lack of stabbing, shooting, cannons, flames, wooden legs, parrots and (in these modern times) somali nationals. Last but not least, there's a complete lack of two things - the first is death, and the second is theft.

The concept of piracy is a strong one, with deep fabulous roots. The connotation of theft of tangible goods and murderous actions is a great thing to grasp one's attention. Tales of stealing and murder abound, including many real life examples such as Blackbeard and sir Francis Drake who while being renowned in English history as an explorer and a politician, was also viewed by the Spanish as a privateer, pirate and generally all-round bad guy. I guess your view of his actions depends on which side you're on, and I'd assume the slaves he took and the crewmen of the ships he sank would probably look on him with ill favour.

Watching TV shows on the internet is certainly not piracy in any traditional sense. Certainly, if I were to take the side of content distributors grimly hanging on to a distribution model based on physical movement of tangible goods, I can understand why I'd like to protect that business model by lobbying and P.R. efforts to draw parallels between theft, violent actions and other malicious behaviours and downloading. After all, that's much simpler to do and less scary than adjusting the business model to fit consumer behaviour.

The terrible thing about this stance is that it's simply bad business sense. The most recent independent surveys such as this one and the one referred to in this article suggest that capturing and monetising the audience who download content from the internet is actually the best way to make money - the very people being criticised and castigated are the best consumers.

While I myself would never in a million years think of downloading internet content for my television viewing pleasure, I do occasionally watch over the shoulder of my evil twin, and when I see something I like I have a habit of buying the BluRay. Oddly enough, I tend to not do this with shows that i've never seen before.

If only there was some way for me to watch this content, without annoying adverts, without warnings on the front intimating that I'm a criminal, on my own terms and timetable, on any device that I'd like to view on. If only there was a way, I would reward those content producers with some of my hard earned money.

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