Producers of Copyrighted Content – They Just Don’t Get It

by Jason Fischer

hulu

I don’t understand why producers of copyrighted content have such a hard time comprehending their customer base. We’re not that difficult to fathom. We only really have a few, simple needs:

  • We want to be able to get to desired content, whenever and however we want.
  • We don’t want to pay through the nose for it.
  • If you make it difficult for us, there are other ways for us to get what we want. Ways you don’t like, because it means you won’t get your cut.

It’s precisely because content producers don’t understand us that we have scenarios like this.

I really thought that everyone was coming closer together, though, producers and consumers, when I discovered a service called Hulu this summer. It just so happened that I found myself, for about six weeks, in a place with Internet access, but limited cable service. I began to fret when I realized that I would not be able to get my weekly Battlestar Galactica fix – right when the last season was beginning to air. Also, with the writers’ strike delaying everything, many of my other favorite programs were still running new episodes into June. I was going to miss the season finales for a handful of shows, which I had been watching religiously at home. I began to panic a little bit.

When I finally got my wits about me, I did a few Google searches and came across the Hulu website. I couldn’t believe what I had found – ad supported streaming of television content, on demand and all in one place. New shows and old shows were all available for me to watch, at my leisure, as long as I was willing to sit through a few 30-second spots for Lipton iced tea. I discovered old and new shows that I had missed, which I could now become a fan of. I watched the entire first season of NBC’s Life on Hulu, and I continue to watch new episodes to date – even though that show airs the same night and time as ABC’s Lost, which sits as my highest priority Season Pass on TiVo. It wasn’t perfect, but I thought it was a significant step in the right direction, a step towards me being able to watch whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, without having to pay any monetary access fee, beyond what I already pay for cable and Internet service.

One of the major drawbacks for the Hulu service was the fact that I could only access the content using a computer. At the time, this past summer, that wasn’t a problem. When I returned home, I went back to watching my 52” television and stopped using the Hulu service entirely, even though there were hours and hours of Arrested Development, The Practice, Babylon 5, and Hill Street Blues collecting virtual dust in my Hulu queue. I went back to watching my television content on TiVo, able to skip all advertising, but limited to shows which were currently airing. I began to lose hope for my dream of some day being able to watch whatever I wanted, whenever and however I wanted to watch it. Then came boxee, and I started feeling good again, believing that one day it would be possible.

Boxee is a piece of software that runs on my hacked Apple TV, which made the Hulu service available on my television. Again, it wasn’t perfect, but it was certainly good enough for me. Again, I was able to pick up old TV shows that I had missed. I was able to watch shows that conflicted with my wife’s higher priority Season Pass to Gossip Girl. Life was good. Then, in an inexplicable fit of ignorance, the content providers decided that I shouldn’t be able to watch whatever I wanted, whenever and however I wanted to watch it.

It was announced this week that Hulu will be pulling its boxee support. The creators of boxee have issued a statement describing their position. Here‘s another blogger’s well-put explanation of the situation. As of Friday, I have to go back to watching only what is currently being aired. If I miss an episode of something, if TiVo goofs and fails to record, if my wife’s addiction to GR∑∑K interferes with one of my recordings, what are my options?

  • Buy another TiVo.
  • Pay $1.99 on iTunes to buy an episode that I will watch only once.
  • Wait a year for the DVD to come out.
  • Violate current copyright laws, pirate the show I want using BitTorrent, upload it to my Apple TV’s hard drive, and enjoy.

Which one do you think most people would pick?

4 Responses to Producers of Copyrighted Content – They Just Don’t Get It

  1. Jason says:

    I enjoyed your post, and it provokes a few thoughts. First, it seems that you are asserting that consumers should get what they want at the price they want, at least sometimes. If they don’t, then, are you advocating that rights in copyrighted works should give way to consumer wants through some mechanism like custom and practice or a modification of copyright law? I share your frustration and just wanted to get your thoughts.

  2. DOMINO says:

    Yup. This is why I simply stopped watching television. It’s just too damned annoying.

  3. And it blows when I have links to the segments on Hulu in my teaching powerpoints and they disappear! curse you NBC and The Office!

  4. jfischer1975 says:

    @ Jason: Do I think that consumers should get what they want at the price they want? Absolutely. If they don’t, then the producers of content have failed to do their jobs properly. People will “pay” for things, if the quality is there and the price is right.

    My problem with most copyright holders is that they cling ignorantly to their tired old pricing/business models, refusing to accept that the market has changed and they need to change too. They refuse to recognize piracy for what it is: competition. Content producers should work to give consumers what they want at a “price” that is acceptable to both sides. BitTorrent is offering everything for no out-of-pocket cost. NBC should be doing whatever they can to compete effectively with that.

    When I say “they don’t get it,” I mean that the producers of copyrighted content don’t recognize that, when they take actions like this, they shoot themselves in the foot. They drive a great number of their consumers to seek the services of a competitor. Applying simple principles of capitalism, if BitTorrent is able to give someone the content they want at a price that is acceptable, then BitTorrent deserves to win.

    As I stated above, I thought it was an incredible step in the right direction that some content producers had embraced the Google-like approach of using embedded ads to pay the bill. DVR use has destroyed their conventional advertising support, so I’m sure their advertisers were more than happy to move some of their commercials to an Internet forum – where viewers would have no choice but to watch. They could get a spot-on accurate measure of how many eyes were seeing those commercials, rather than relying on the hypothetical numbers that Nielsen provides. One might think that someone like NBC would be able to charge more of a premium for those eyeballs.

    Those content providers who leaned on Hulu to remove boxee support reportedly did so because they were afraid of losing revenues from people abandoning their cable/satellite service entirely in favor of boxee. While this idea was a bit ridiculous to me, I can understand their fear. But understanding it doesn’t mean that I can excuse them for invoking the nuclear option of killing the service. You can’t tell me that there was not a way to adapt to the situation, such that Hulu revenues would replace the small amount of satellite/cable subscription fees that might be lost.

    With new content, the argument is strong for making sure that viewers watch on their TV. Producing an episode of Lost is expensive; I get that. There’s less risk for ABC if they can rely on selling ads to run when the show airs live. However, with the older content that isn’t airing anymore, whatever revenue that those shows generate through online viewing is pure gravy for the content producers. The production bills for Hill Street Blues were all taken care of many many many years ago. If NBC gets a quarter for every embedded ad that I watch while viewing an episode, there should be no reason not to give the customer what they want. If their holding out for me to buy the DVD box set, they shouldn’t hold their breath.

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