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Piracy Isn’t an Ease-of-Access Issue
Plus: the best (recent) Best Picture, assigned!
One thing that you hear a great deal when you write about the piracy of movies is that it’s not about people being “too cheap to pay for content.” It’s an issue of access. That people pirate stuff they can’t get immediately at home from the comfort of their living room. If it was easier to pay for stuff, people would happily pay for it!
This is why one of the arguments often deployed against windowing—that is, having discrete time periods in which a movie is in theaters, then available to buy on video on demand, then available to stream for “free” on services like Netflix—is that studios are really just stubborn idiots, costing themselves money. People who want to go to theaters will still go to theaters, and other people who want to wait will happily pay if only they could easily access it at home!
As a longtime student of nature, allow me to channel Poker Face’s Charlie Cale:
Here’s the thing: people aren’t stealing movies because they can’t access them at home. If they were stealing movies because they couldn’t access them at home, piracy would plummet when a movie hit a streaming service like Disney+ or Netflix—two of the most-subscribed-to services in the world—right? Fun fact: when movies hit streaming services, you tend to see a HUGE spike in piracy, as people rip high-quality versions of the movies and distribute them online, for free, because—sing it with me, so the people in the back can hear you!—people who engage in piracy are too cheap to pay for content.
Just look at this slide from The Cinema Foundation’s “State of the Cinema Industry”:
It’d be shocking if it weren’t so obvious. Because the most-pirated films aren’t arthouse features that play in two cities on six screens and never make it to Manitoba. The most-pirated films aren’t out-of-print movies or orphaned features or lost silents. The most-pirated films have never been those things. The most-pirated films are the most popular films, and the most popular films are the most pirated because—once more, with feeling!—people who engage in piracy are too cheap to pay for content.
But they don’t want shaky-cam rips from theaters. They want high-res, good-quality images. So, they wait, like everyone else, for the movies to become available on streaming.
And then they steal them.
Yes, yes: The Cinema Foundation is a nonprofit backed by the National Association of Theater Owners. And NATO has skin in the game here: They believe, correctly, that a strong window of theatrical exclusivity is needed because without it theaters simply won’t exist.
But the studios need to understand that they have skin in the game here too. The moment they put a movie on their streaming service, they’ve given every freeloader in the world access to it for nothing. Better to delay that fate as long as possible.
And if you enjoyed that, you’ll love my chat with Bilge Ebiri and Brandon Streussnig on The Bulwark Goes to Hollywood this week (subscribe on iTunes here or wait for this newsletter tomorrow!) about what went into pulling these awards together and some of the debates those in the stunt professional community have about whether or not an Oscars for stunting is even a good idea.
This week I reviewed 65, the movie about Adam Driver fighting dinosaurs that doesn’t have nearly enough dino-fighting in it for my taste. It’s not terrible, it’s just kind of dull, and that’s actually probably worse than being actively terrible.
I remain convinced that no one in charge of media companies has any idea how people actually interact with their products. For the latest example of this, see the brain trust at Warner Bros.-Discovery thinking the name “HBO” might be a drag on HBOMax’s popularity.
I enjoyed talking to Mike Cosper at Christianity Today about the Oscars.
Look, if people are dumb enough to gamble on professional wrestling, they should be allowed to do so. I wouldn’t even waste the time of regulators on this. Just let the marks throw their money away. They’ll find something else to waste it on if not this.
R.L. Stine says he has no idea his books are being bowdlerized by Scholastic. Which feels like a real problem!
Had a good time talking to Michael Schulman about his history of the Oscars on BGTH last week. Check it out before this Sunday’s ceremony!
Assigned Viewing: No Country for Old Men (HBO Max)
Since it’s Oscars weekend, I’m assigning the best Best Picture winner of the last 20 years.