2007-12-28

Squandering opportunities

I am not really sure what the content industry thinks it is gaining by still having content that is only available/playable in certain regions. We've had DVDs which are locked to given regions for as long as DVDs have been around, and services like iTunes perpetuate the same sort of silliness in their service. It just makes no sense.

If anything, adding these limitations to content just gives people yet another reason to obtain the content in other ways. For example, if someone from Europe buys a DVD in the US, then takes it home, the DVD won't play on a conforming DVD player. The best solution is usually to put the DVD in a computer and copy it -- either by re-encoding it to a more practical format (such as DivX), or by stripping out the region coding and possibly burning a new CD.

In some jurisdictions this now seems to be illegal -- which, of course, makes no sense at all. You have paid for a product, you should be allowed to use the product. It is hard for people to see why it should be a crime to enjoy content that you have paid for.

As I see it, this hassle, and the criminalization of circumvention of silliness, just encourages piracy.

A lot of people I know would be interested in buying TV-series and the like which is only available in certain regions. Since buying DVDs from abroad is such a hassle, and since iTunes won't let you buy the series if you happen to live in Europe, people tend to just rip, re-encode and copy among friends. Even worse (for the industry): ,ore and more people do not even get the content from people who bought the DVDs because it is much more convenient to download the content and be sure it will play on whatever you want to play it on.

Pirated content is a vastly superior user experience in almost all cases.

And don't think that this is an activity limited to just kids and people who can't afford (or are too cheap) to buy stuff: people from all social layers, of all ages do this. It is becoming increasingly socially acceptable. I've met lots of moderately famous people with tons of money who are active users of various back-channels for getting the content they want. The common factor is that they are tired of the limited availability and flexibility.

It is not about the money.

It is about the user experience.

The content industry just doesn't seem to get it. Every month that goes by without them getting it is a month where they lose more money. Because people just don't bother with their content or because people find alternative ways of getting it. The content industry is squandering their opportunities for profit by being locked into ways of thinking that are contrary to their interests.

An ironic twist is that the people who evaluate movies for the Academy Awards complained when they were forced to use DVD players with even stricter DRM systems for viewing the screeners. Turns out that being dependent on a special device for viewing the movies was such a hassle that in the end, they decided to abandon the system:

From The Hollywood Reporter:
In addition, voters were showing no signs of warming up to the SV-300, the machine operating the S-View software that scored few points for being user-friendly in its brief run. Its user base complained of the impracticality of having to lug the machine around on vacation during the holiday season, the height of the screening period.
Even industry insiders feel the pain of the ordinary user -- yet nothing happens. Why is it taking so long for the various content industries to grasp that they are squandering opportunities? There is money to be made! Tons of it. They just need to understand the consumer.

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