Heavy Hangs The Bandwidth That Torrents The Crown

The latest Oatmeal cartoon has been making the rounds of Twitter (largely thanks to John Gruber’s link). It makes two points about the problems of piracy exceptionally well.

The intentional point is that the content distributors often make it crazy-stupid hard for us to give them our money. Most of these industries have been frustratingly slow to adopt to the patterns of the modern consumer. News flash: we’re not heading to Blockbuster Video any more. Well, actually, yes, we are. But only because the Blockbuster went out of business and a Panera Bread is now leasing that space. We’ll probably get a Bacon Turkey Bravo for lunch and then watch some Netflix via the restaurant’s free WiFi while we eat.

Consumers couldn’t make their desires any more clear. We’ve got money to spend on TV and movies, but now we’re looking for it on iTunes and Netflix and through all other kinds of network-connected devices. If a distributor shows up in any of those places with a product we want, we’ll buy it.

[Added to clarify: and if they don’t show up in those places, they’re making torrenting that much more attractive. They’re just feeding the monster they’re trying to fight. That’s crystal-clear.

Remember the mistakes that the comic book industry made. Digital distribution made no sense to Marvel and DC, so they never really committed to it. Fine, but reading a comic book on a phone or a laptop made perfect sense to their audience, and they’re the people with the money. In the absence of a legal means of digital comics distribution, an illegal infrastructure of file standards, consumption tools, and distribution systems developed and flourished.]

The Oatmeal made an unintentional point that was just as important as the first, however:

The single least-attractive attribute of many of the people who download content illegally is their smug sense of entitlement.

Here’s my conversation with a hypothetical person who wants to check out “Game Of Thrones.” Not with Matthew Inman, author of The Oatmeal, I hasten to say. Just a conglomeration of the species of torrenters as a whole.

You want to see what the hubbub around “Game Of Thrones” is about? Cool. The show is produced by HBO and it’s available exclusively on that channel. It’s a premium channel and any cable provider can sell you a monthly subscription.

HBO’s awesome. They have a streaming app that will allow you to watch pretty much any original series or movie that they still have the rights to (including “Thrones”) and it works with almost everything that can play streaming video. HBO doesn’t even charge for the app or for the extra access.

You say you don’t want to subscribe to HBO, or even cable?

Ah. Well, no worries. The show will be released on DVD and Blu-ray later in the year.

You’re not into physical media? I’m with you. It’ll be on iTunes soon. See? The store page lists the release date. March 6. You can circle it on the calendar and everything.

You’re still frowning. What’s wrong, Scrumpkin?

Oh. You want it right now.

But — umm — the release date is only, like, two or three weeks away. Just hang on a bit. You’ll be fine.

Yes, I heard you (please, sir, there’s really no need to shout). I understand that you want it (and I hope I’m not misquoting you) right the ****ity-**** NOWWWWWWWW. But you can’t have it now. You can have it on March 6. It isn’t even as far away as you think. Remember? February is the super-short month?


You’re already torrenting it, aren’t you?

Annnnd now you’re also calling me a d*** because I expected you to wait two weeks, and you’re claiming that you’re “forced” to torrent it because the video industry is bunch of turds. How charming.

Here’s the terms of use for commercial content: you have to pay for this stuff. This means either you need to wait for it to become commercially available, or if you torrent it today you need to buy it when it gets released. So long as you buy it as soon as it’s possible to do so, I can confidently reach for my “No Harm Done” rubber stamp. Some content is commercially unavailable because the publisher or distributor has no desire to ever release it. I’ll even go so far as to say that downloading it illegally is a positive thing; you’re helping to keep this creative work alive.

If you avoid purchasing the media in some form, however…you’re just Johnny No Wanna Pay. Simple as that. Get off your high horse and don’t even try that “I’m making a stand and sending a message to content producers” stuff. It’s bunkum.

I’m reminded of a Louis CK joke. I’m going to clean up a little because I’m not Louis CK and this isn’t a live comedy stage. It really wouldn’t come across the same way otherwise.

“I’m totally opposed to stealing an Xbox. Unless Microsoft sets a price for them that I don’t want to pay, or there’s a new model in a warehouse somewhere and it won’t ship to stores for another few weeks. Because what else am I going to do? Not have that Xbox? That’s no solution!”

The world does not OWE you Season 1 of “Game Of Thrones” in the form you want it at the moment you want it at the price you want to pay for it. If it’s not available under 100% your terms, you have the free-and-clear option of not having it.

I sometimes wonder if this simple, grown-up fact gets ignored during all of these discussions about digital distribution.

It was still a funny strip, though.

315 thoughts on “Heavy Hangs The Bandwidth That Torrents The Crown

  1. Jans

    I am only confused by one thing…
    I can understand waiting a year for the DVD series because they want to add behind the scenes stuff and everything…..but wait…wasn’t all that behind the scenes stuff already made before and during the run of season 1?
    We just want to watch the shows. They aired a year ago. Why does it take a year for an already aired show to get on iTunes?

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  7. Jonathan

    Just checked iTunes: no Game of Thrones episodes to download, no HBO app. NZ is out of luck. What do you expect people do to? I don’t plan to be a pirate, so I guess I’ll just never see this series ever. Is that a win for anyone?

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  10. Argyle

    This is the same thing I deal with with 30 ROCK! Now, a bit of history. 30 ROCK used to be available to stream on my Roku using Hulu Plus (which I pay for). For $8 a month I can watch this, Daily Show and Colbert. It was a sweet deal, and all was well. I watched season 5 of 30 ROCK in my cord-cutted house last season on the ROKU with my wife. We watched on our terms. Sometimes we’d go a month a half without watching and then be able to sit down on a Sunday and blast through 6-8 episodes in a 3 hour session.

    What happened now, is that the DAY that season 6 started to air on free terrestrial televison, mind you, Hulu moved 30 ROCK to this bullshit “web only” section, and additionally limits access to the last 5 aired shows, even for PAYING customers. I was furious. It’s not bad enough that the episodes only go back 5 shows, but they took away my convenience factor of being able to watch when I want, often delayed viewing by weeks, and where I want, on my couch.

    My option has changed to, grab some chairs and put them around the computer, hun. We better watch these episodes before they “expire”. Are you kidding me. I can understand those limitations for the free service, but for something I PAY for, that is unacceptable.

    So it comes down to… should I buy an Amazon pass to reclaim that convenience, and freedom to watch on my couch on my own time, on top of the monthly subscription I was already paying and was used to from previous seasons… or should I torrent?

    The answer is simple. Fix your system content providers. I routinely buy from Amazon Video on Demand. I have a Hulu Plus and Netflix subscription. I will skip shows I want to watch that I can’t access (ie: Game of Thrones and Life’s Too Short). But I will NOT, read my lips, NOT PAY FOR CONTENT MULTIPLE TIMES IN ORDER TO “FIX” SOMETHING THAT DIDN’T NEED TO BE BROKEN IN THE FIRST PLACE.

    I’m done.

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  12. Johnny

    Reading over this comment thread is quite amusing and rich with irony. I especially like the comments that in effect say, “You’re totally missing the point Andy. This show isn’t available in my country or is a year late, so of course I’m going to pirate it. What other choice do I have?!” LOL.

    Pirating is illegal, plain and simple. Any arguments to justify it are just rationalizations.

  13. Dave Guinee

    I’m pretty much stunned by many of these responses, which are just elaborate rationalizations of theft. I agree with you that no harm is done when someone pays in some form for the content, but the point is that I don’t have any right to content that I don’t pay for. I’d argue that clean water is something we might consider a right, but access to 30 Rock is not.

    Above someone talks about how the free market is taking care of the situation, but that’s confusing the free market with the black market. When someone steals digital material and then distributes it free, without the owner’s consent, that is not the operation of the free market. The free market involves the ability to produce and sell goods at prices that the market creates.

    I in no way think the content creators are being smart about this or that they shouldn’t adapt to what their customers want (within reason — they have no responsibility to give out content for free). Their stupidity, however, is not a license for my cupidity.

    At least as worrisome to me as their distribution policies are the ways in which the major studios routinely cut the writers, actors, and other content creators out of the profit loop for digital content, and much of what your readers see as their simple stupidity and reluctance to adapt to a new way of business is, I’m sure, a result of how they’ve crafted their contracts with writers and actors guilds. Part of what they are doing is undoubtedly avoiding payment of residuals, so that what they lose in immediate sales they may gain in decreased expenses.

  14. Kate Fitzsimons

    You know, there’s a difference between justification of behavior and a pragmatic look at the commercial realities of the situation.

    Commercially speaking, it is entirely predictable that people will want to buy the first season of your new hit show in time for the second season. Should they take it by other means? No. Are you, business-wise, foolish not to take advantage of the desire to purchase your product? Yes.

  15. Ilya

    I have no interest in vast majority of HBO content. I’d be perfectly happy to pay HBO to download Game of Thrones, and a few other shows I actually want. In fact, I’d be willing to pay more per episode than HBO ends up getting from sale of DVD’s. Except HBO will not sell them to me. All it will sell is a subscription. How would you feel if you asked a butcher for two pounds of beef, and were told “Sorry, we only sell a whole steer”?

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