2010-04-01

The movie industry is a bunch of whining incompetents

Sony claims that Spain is on the verge of no longer being a viable market for their home entertainment products because of the wide-spread practice of unauthorized downloading of movies from the net.  The same article notes that servies like iTunes do not offer legitimate movie and TV-series downloads in the same region.

Meanwhile, there is a lot of talk about how the movie industry is using its influence to strong-arm politicians into passing laws that threaten the very foundations of a modern democracy.  The movie industry wants laws that enables them to monitor private citizens and to take Internet access away from those suspected of involvement in unauthorized distribution or consumption of content without due process.  In many cases they want privileges that have traditionally only been available to law enforcement subject to court order.

What is so frightening is that a considerable number of politicians are willing to entertain such notions -- which makes one wonder how these myopic lightweights ever thought themselves fit to represent us; and what dimwits we are to allow them to continue to hold public office.  Even in Norway we have seen politicians and public servants eagerly engaging in behaviors that can easily be interpreted as working on behalf of the movie industry.

The root of the problem is the movie industry itself.  For decades the large studios have been able to operate as vertically integrated monopolies.  Not only have they controlled the production and distribution of content, but they have also played a major role in determining what we are allowed to see and when.  They are used to dictating the terms.  They feel entitled.

The world changed around them and it changed more quickly than they had anticipated.  Rather than trying to understand the changes that were taking place, the movie industry reacted as they have always done:  by resisting change and by exerting their considerable political influence.  In fact, they have been so busy lobbying politicians and abusing the legal system that they have failed to come up with solutions that the consumers want.  The movie industry has ended up making enemies of their most valuable customers.

I can't think of any other industry that, on one hand, turns down customers wanting to buy their product, and on the other hand spend so much time making sure the product is kept out of the hands of would-be customers.  This makes absolutely no sense except in a scenario where you want to create artifical scarcity and want to encourage circumvention.

As the article linked to above notes, the premier service for distributing digital content, iTunes, does not offer movies via their service in Spain.  This is important.  It illustrates how frightfully naive the movie industry is:  there is clearly a demand, yet the movie industry refuses to do business with its consumers on terms acceptable to the consumer.  If the movie industry is so reluctant to do business with Apple, probably for fear of Apple gaining too much power, why have they not made any serious effort over the last decade to offer their own digital distribution channels?

In Norway there are services that provide legitimate access to digital content such as movies.  But the experience is fragmented and mostly of poor quality.  It has often been noted that the user experience provided by pirated content of, for instance, movies in 1080p HD quality is far superior to that of most on-line movie rental services with a limited selection of movies and late availability of recent movies.  With pirated content the consumer has more choice.  More choice with regard to devices for playing back movies, more choice with regard to how and when the content can be consumed.

The real danger of what the movie industry is doing is that they are creating a generation of consumers who will be used to getting their content for free.  If you look at the young adults of today, they grew up in a world where music was available as MP3s in their formative years.  The same is now happening to movies and TV series.

By insisting on regional licensing, on stringent terms that greatly reduce usability and convenience and by exploiting spineless and irresponsible politicians and civil servants to erode the rights and liberties provided by the legal system, the movie industry is, in effect,  at war with the very principles that are supposed to ensure liberty and safety in our society.

Personally, I do not think the movie industry has done anything to deserve special treatment.  Their failure to adapt to the changes that have taken place over the past two decades are their failures and their failures alone.  It is so obviously wrong that we allow these special interests to be exempt from the principles upon which a proper society and legal system rest.

Disruptive change is nothing new.  It has been studied and described and it is part of the curriculum in any decent business education.  One would think that the expensive Ivy League educations of industry leaders and advisers would be good for more than CV-fodder.

It is time for the movie industry to pull itself together, quit whining and start focusing on more fruitful solutions to their ailments.  It is time for politicians to grow a spine and to tell the movie industry that we aren't going to sacrifice our principles for their incompetence.  It is time for voters to identify and eliminate politicians, by not voting for them, that are willing to sacrifice important legal and democratic principles for the temporary relief it can afford multinational businesses that would do just fine if they were not so damned lazy and incompetent.

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