Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Popcorn Time

Every now and then you get an indication of just how far behind Canada’s executive and governing classes are.

A few months ago, the Federal government instructed our broadcast regulators to finally address consumer dissatisfaction with channel bundling by our cable companies.

That dissatisfaction has been building for decades, fuelled by escalating rates for content endlessly repeated over multiple tiers of broadcasting and more recently sold once again to the same consumers over online and mobile platforms.

The CRTC itself announced it would be dealing with the issue in 2011, but didn’t for reasons they’ve never explained but most of us assumed was because the cable/broadcast conglomerates didn’t want them to.

While this foot-dragging was going on, a new player called NETFLIX arrived on the scene, soon followed by similar set-top box services delivering content across multiple platforms for a monthly price far lower than the cost of a single cable bundle of movie channels which often just interchange the same titles between one another.

To date, about 30% of Canadians have subscribed to Netflix, mostly attracted by the simple concept of “what-you-want-when-you-want-it” and a menu of new titles arriving with more regularity than they do in the cable system.

In the US, Netflix now has more subscribers than HBO and (along with Youtube) accounts for 50% of downstream traffic.

And while cableco’s and regulators continue to rail against OTT services, they’re clearly the future. And a future bright for content creators as well as consumers.

Because in much the same way that iTunes turned music pirates into buyers by allowing consumers greater access to the music they wanted instead of purchasing entire CDs, NETFLIX and its ilk have lowered piracy rates to a fraction of what they were a few years ago.

The only people being hurt by this transition are the cultural gatekeepers and the corporate conglomerates who have heretofore controlled distribution and access to content.

They’re not giving up without a fight and it appears the CRTC continues to sympathize with their plight.

In it’s continued slow process of divining consensus, the CRTC rolled out some surveys and talking points that felt couched in the same broadcaster protecting language we’ve come to expect of the regulator.

Many of the questions about cable bundles suggested you wouldn’t save much money from unbundling since some channels would charge premium rates and niche offerings might be lost.

In the Internet section, the possibility of data caps or additional charges for content were floated. This despite that option failing to find acceptance from the population or the Commission a couple of years back.

Unlike most digitally savvy Canadians, the CRTC seems unable to grasp the reality that the same bits and bytes that deliver a myriad of programming to TV sets don’t cost more if they go somewhere else over the same cable.

But that wilful blindness is part of the same unwillingness to give up control of the system exhibited by the studios, networks and cable companies. And now it’s “Popcorn Time”.

Popcorn Time is an App that makes video piracy impossibly easy.  On top of that it doesn’t download any selected movie or TV show to your computer. It just streams it in HD. Leaving no trace of what you watched or when you watched it on your screen device.

In other words, nobody can prove you pirated anything.

So much for the potential Hollywood revenue stream discussed here a couple of weeks ago.

Now the content owner is royally fucked.

And so are you because less content gets produced as a result.

And so are the Gatekeepers, distributors, cable companies and everybody else who decided they also needed to be well paid for what you watch.

All of which could have easily been solved years ago by regulators and smart corporate executives willing to adapt rather than try to hang onto a broken business model.

Is piracy wrong? You bet your ass.

Is continuing to hang onto a system that overcharges and under-delivers because it’s all we know worth fighting for?

Srsly? That’s still under consideration?

According to the CRTC, it is.

But once again, we have yet another example of how technology is continuing to outpace our industry and unless we come to grips with these rapid changes soon, they will completely swamp whatever production methods and structures we had in place.

And then nobody survives.

Here’s a look at Popcorn Time. Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.

1 comment:

Howard Bernstein said...

thank you, thank you...now please send a copy of your blog to every MP and every CRTC Commissioner. They won't do anything but at least they will know that some of us see through their bull.