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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Don't let an executive get in the way of a good idea...

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.

Comments

  1. Avatar of PJ Johnson says

    Neither answer is probably the truth. The cold hard truth is that Hollywood is scared of piracy and wants to do everything in its power to make it difficult for you to create a digital copy.

    Sometimes the simplest answers are the easiest to understand.

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    • Avatar of David G. Wilson says

      Piracy is exacerbated by lack of availability. I get very frustrated when a show or movie that I want to watch is not available on demand. In particular, waiting for an entire season of a show to play out before it becomes available on VOD is an invitation to piracy.
      Were you the one who posted that interview with the creator of Breaking Bad? The one about VOD saving his show? The point he made was a good one – that binge-watching saved his show from oblivion, since it causer viewership to rise year on year, as more people heard about it through the grapevine and were able to (on Netflix) go back to the beginning and watch a few shows in a row to see if they liked it. Personally, I won’t even watch a show if the first season isn’t entirely available at once. Besides, it’s a waste of resources to hook someone with the pilot episode and then force them to wait; they’re very likely to get distracted by something else that’s interesting and never come back.

      • Avatar of PJ Johnson says

        I agree with you that is exactly what happened to Vince Gilligan’s BREAKING BAD. The show continues to grow its fan base purely online and only because you can watch the whole 5 series (as I did) in less than one month. Waiting for final 8 episodes coming this August.

        My point was that the studios do everything in their power to prevent their DVD’s to be digitally copied is all.

        In future companies may have to greenlight multiple seasons of a show as a result which actually has even more capital requirements that a series might have today strange as that may sound.

        Our family started watching BREAKING BAD only into season five even though we caught up from the very beginning.

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  2. Dan says

    The reason they have geo-restrictions is because the studios sell rights for films to distributors in those different regions and those distributors don’t want competition for “their” customers from the distributors in those other regions… If you live in the UK you are ‘owned’ by the distibutor who bought rights to a film or TV series for your region and they don’t want you to buy that film from another distributor in say Germany or Hong Kong… it may be a global economy but the movie industry is franchised!

    • Avatar of David G. Wilson says

      Dan, thanks for your feedback.
      By distributors, do you mean retailers? Hollywood Studios generally distribute their own films globally without using sales agents or third-parties, so they’d only be in competition with themselves. If you mean DVD distribution – which they do sometimes give to another Studio’s home entertainment division to handle – I suppose this could be true although, again, they tend to give it to a single entity to manage. If you mean retailers, well, then, yes – I get that. But this is price-fixing, which I think is pretty hard to advocate in a global economy, where prices are more transparent. Arbitrage opportunities on eBay, Amazon and others are driving the market towards price parity.

      As far as I’m aware, the original argument that was made for DVD geo-restrictions had to do with pricing and release windows. I think it’s safe to say that release windows are under threat. Day-in-date is probably only a few years away. And simultaneous global releases are more common because of piracy. In terms of pricing, though, I always thought this was a form of price-fixing. I would be happy to see this disappear.

      To be honest, I think Studios will eventually make more money by having day-in-date releases. The reason being, they can optimise pricing by charging customers different price points for access to their films at different times and in different ways. Some Studios have experimented with charging fans over $100 to purchase a VOD viewing that they can watch with friends at home on the day of release. This makes a lot of sense to me. Different people will pay different amounts to see what they want to see in different ways. Some will pay more to see it earlier. Why not give people what they want? We aren’t in the one-size-fits-all economy anymore. Might as well embrace it and try earning more money at the same time.

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