Recently, I purchased a DVD from Amazon in the UK. It arrived promptly the next day, which was impressive. I popped it into my computer to watch but realised that I hadn't set my DVD region yet on that machine. I didn't really want to. Since I travel frequently between the USA (region 1) and the UK (region 2), I like to keep my options open. I wasn't ready to commit.
Right about then, my iTunes auto-loaded, whereupon I was informed that I was entitled to download a digital copy of the movie for my personal consumption. Okay, I thought, that's a relief. This way, I could transfer the digital copy to my AppleTV and watch it on the big screen. That would make a nice change.
Following the instructions detailed by a 20th Century Fox page for the film that had popped up within iTunes, I retrieved the insert from the DVD pack with a special, very long code that I was meant to enter to confirm my right to download the film. I entered the code. Error. I was informed that my purchase was only valid for the UK iTunes store. I had been logged into the US iTunes store.
No problem, I thought, I'll just switch accounts and try again. Never mind the lunacy of having to juggle several accounts from different countries in order to consume content - I had long become used to the punitive habits of Hollywood and their ridiculous region-locking practices.
I logged into my iTunes UK account but, since I hadn't authorised that account on the machine I was using, I had to go into my credit card details and reconfirm my identity. This wasn't so bad but when I was returned to the Fox page for the movie, it hadn't cached my code, so I had to re-enter it. I hit return. Error.
The "Session Timed Out", apparently. The time spent authorising my machine with iTunes had made Fox impatient and untrusting. There was no way to reload the page, so I had no recourse but to eject the DVD, reinsert it and wait for the Fox screen to load all over again.
By this point, I had spent 15 minutes fiddling. But, I wanted my digital copy and I wasn't going to give up. The nearest DVD player I had wasn't multi-region, so I really wanted to get the digital version, so I could watch it on the big screen without having to region-lock my laptop DVD drive.
I entered the long code into the Fox page and hit return. This time it worked and the download started.
After about 10 minutes, the movie was ready to watch but I wanted to transfer it to my AppleTV to watch on the big screen. This was an older AppleTV, not the new streaming one, so I would need to sync it first.
It wouldn't sync. I see, the AppleTV was using my US account, that's probably why it didn't work. I switched accounts and tried again. Nope. It told me that I didn't have permission to watch the film.
In the end, I gave up. 30 minutes had gone by. I couldn't watch the film the way I wanted. However, it was interesting to note that the film was available as a pirated bittorrent file on ISOHUNT without any of those restrictions - including a nice mpeg4 that was AppleTV compatible.
DVD sales are dwindling because it's no longer the most consumer-friendly format. Geo-restricting DVDs by making them region-specific was the kiss of death. And now they are geo-restricting digital downloads. Has anybody learnt anything?
I can only imagine a world where I can effortlessly download/stream films to whatever device I happen to be using at the moment - WITH ONE CLICK. Oh, yes, there is such a place... it's called Pirate Bay.
And the industry wonders why DVDs are dying...
What was insightful about this experience is that the Studios still don't understand the needs of consumers. They presume that tying digital downloads to DVD purchases will halt some of the piracy but then they encumber the digital downloads process with all the same nonsensical restrictions that they place on DVDs. This is a bad band-aid. It won't fix the problem.
Here's the mantra again: anything, anytime, anywhere.
If you don't give people what they want, they will find an easier way. And, I'm sorry to say, pirated content is by far the easiest way. It's easy to find with search. It's one-click. It's generally pre-formatted to the widest common denominator. It doesn't have licensing restrictions. And, it's free.
I don't want movies to be free. But, it makes me angry to see them so difficult to get my hands on. Why can't I simply Google a film that I'm interested in, click 'rent' or 'buy' and - boom - watch it straight away on any device I own? Why is that beyond comprehension?
I get angry when I think about this - not least of all because of all the time I wasted with region-restricted content - but because of all the money that the industry is losing to piracy when it's within their control to do something about it. Studios are actually CONTRIBUTING to the problem. Their inability to collect revenue results in a shortfall to filmmakers. That makes me mad. It should make us all very mad, indeed. We are being shortchanged by their shortsightedness.
If we want to stop piracy, we've got to make it easy to get, easy to use and offered at an attractive price. Nothing else is going to work.
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Independent cinema is our greatest hope. Audiences want them. Cinemas want them when seats are empty during the week. But distributors can’t agree on them and few of them want to pay upfront. They’d rather pick it up at a festival. Perhaps, it’s time we accept that the Middle-Man is the problem.