$6. That’s the price I paid to rent the delightful Pixar production that is Wall-E. But, obviously, that’s not enough money for me to not be treated like a criminal, for me to actually watch the movie the way I wanted to, or even watch it at all in any way. Sure, it’s a rental, so I expect DRM. But even then, I would’ve had the same experience if I’d bought it.
Yes, I’m talking about the age-old fight between consumers and content-creators. You know, the fight we won with the music industry. And the fight that still continues with the movie industry. Because, as we all know, content-creators want you to buy and enjoy their content in one way: their way. If you try to watch it in any other way, then you’ll have to have pirated it.
The music industry slowly but surely learned that treating consumers like consumers and not criminals actually made them want to buy content. They stopped using WMA’s or other silly, broken types of digital-rights management software and instead began using DRM-free AAC’s or MP3’s. So if I want to buy an album and listen to it on any device, I can. Right now, I can load up a number of different websites or services and, because we won the war against the content-creators, it’ll work on the device I choose. Sure, streaming music still has DRM, but in most cases that is alright because the content is being delivered in a flexible way to your desktop, your web browser, or your phone or iPod touch. Or Zune… But the moral of that story is that, eventually, the music industry learnt that treating consumers like criminals had convinced them to, instead of pay for music, download it in a better, DRM-free format. But they soon realised that by treating consumers like they were good people then they would be good people, with a few inevitable exceptions.
Because that’s the thing content-creators seem to forget: the content is already out there in a DRM-free format. And with a short amount of time, I can get your content anyway, by not paying at all. And giving your paying customers a worse experience will slowly, but almost surely, lose them.
But, let’s get back to my lovely (sarcasm) experience with iTunes. Yesterday was a day where I was feeling generous. I knew that movies still exist in locked-down ecosystems, such as an iTunes purchase (excluding music) only working with Apple hardware and Windows, but I thought to myself: why bother searching for a pirated version of this movie when I can pay $6 and have it, as Steve Jobs said, “just work”. But it didn’t. I couldn’t watch it on my MacBook Pro’s display, instead getting this lovely message.
Now, I could’ve emailed support. I could’ve called them. But the truth is that most people won’t. And the other truth is that, instead of waiting hours for a reply or waiting 20 minutes on a phone-line where someone will just tell me something I could’ve read online, I can just download it illegally and watch it. Done.
What’s the point of this complain-ridden article then? It’s that we have to start sending a stronger message to content creators, not by Tweets or articles like this that they’ll never see, but by letters and other serious formats. You can delete an email or ignore a tweet, but once you hand them a complaint in a boring format that they understand (they are, after all, part of the outdated entertainment industry), then it’ll be harder for them to ignore. They can throw out letters, but they’ll still read them.
And the message we should be sending is this: there are people who will always want to pirate your product. And they will always find a way. Just look at every single form of DRM. I pirated Wall-E in 20 minutes in a 1080p, crystal-clear, DRM-free format that worked with any device in my house. I bought it in 5 minutes for an expensive $6, messed around with it for much longer, and then, out of frustration, couldn’t watch it in 720p. Moral of the day: piracy is better at the moment.
The people who are paying for movies are the good guys. Some of them will be bad, but most of them will take your nice file, accept that they’ve been given the benefit of the doubt, and watch it. They won’t upload it to a torrent website, they might give it to a friend, but in the end they’ll still have paid for it once. Instead, what’s happening now, and will continue to happen, is that people will soon learn that paying for things gives them a worse experience. And as soon as the habit of piracy continues expansion, you’ve lost. As soon as mum and dad learn they can download a movie themselves without visiting Bali, you’ve lost.
Time is running out. Will you evolve and treat customers, not criminals, like customers? Or will you die? Let’s find out. Because, it’s inevitable that DRM will eventually die. But the delays are doing more harm than good.