Mark Kermode recently captured his thoughts on film piracy in his Uncut blog, which boiled down to his view that piracy will stopped by simultaneous distribution (releasing a film in cinemas, streaming online and on DVD on the same date). I think that Kermode is coming from a naïve and cinema-obsessed point of view that won’t tackle piracy.
Movie piracy is a very complicated issue and Kermode doesn’t take this into consideration in his solution. A generation of people are used to the free illegal downloading of films, which is a price barrier that can’t be beaten by the fee for streaming online on the day of release. There are various reasons for downloading for free – some might think they are sticking it to The Man, who is making too much money already, or because everyone else is doing it – but the cost is an important factor. A family wishing to see a film in the local multiplex will need to spend nearly £100 (including food and travel, etc.); why do that when they could download the film for free, or buy a pirate DVD for a couple of quid from the car boot sale?
Not everyone who downloads for free is taking money from the film industry, no matter what the scary estimates might suggest, but the majority don’t care that the act of downloading is not affecting the studios and corporations but the people who help to make the films: the writers, the technical people, the artists. They should care – if creative people can’t make any money in the industry, then there will be no more creative films and then nobody will want to download them anyway. Should Hollywood be partially blamed for creating a culture of demand for its product through blanket marketing? Or is the blame for the pricing of its product for the average consumer, who will be confused when they hear the reports of films making hundreds of millions of dollars around the world? The films that are illegally downloaded the most are the Hollywood blockbusters – don’t they see the correlation?
Kermode doesn’t think about how cinemas will survive his model – the price of going to the cinema will increase towards the price of seeing a play in a theatre in the West End, but without the unique experience of seeing a live performance that can’t be repeated. The price of legal downloads or streaming would be set at a high price to make up for the loss of revenue – DVDs used to account for about half of the income of a film but that is no longer the case – which will only make ‘free’, albeit illegal, sound even more appealing.
Do I have a solution? No, of course not. Do I think there is something in the multiple-platform release strategy? Yes, but not for all films and not right now, because it is going to change how films are produced, financed and made. The only thing I hope for is that the movie industry won’t destroy the internet in its misguided attempts to maintain an out-of-date business model.