Backroom Deals Fuel Laws Like SOPA, Not Piracy

| 14 Mar 2012 11:35

Users want all content available all the time, but streaming everything violates old deals with retail chains.

Having cut the cord totally from cable programming, I now depend on Hulu Plus and Netflix to provide all my shiny pictures moving in a rectangular frame - otherwise known as my HDTV. That's great for older shows and movies, but my desire to watch the second season of Sherlock is thwarted by it not appearing on either service. When it is impossible to get content any other way, some folks are driven to download it illegally. Instead of content providers working as hard as they can to make shows purchasable online, they are instead spending time and money lobbying for legislation like SOPA and PIPA, and taking down websites such as Megaupload. Gene Hoffman, CEO of Vindicia and a pioneer in the music downloading business in the late 1990s, thinks Hollywood won't fully commit to digital distribution because of old deals made with retail partners.

"The problem I have with the entire [SOPA] conversation is it's an exact repeat of 1999," said Hoffman, who began selling un-encrypted mp3s for 99 cents a track and was attacked by the music industry for it. That is, until Napster came around. "[Hollywood] doesn't have a good moral argument when they sit there pulling stuff out of Netflix and making it harder and harder for those of us who have no problem at all paying a fair price for it.

"If I could pay for and gain access to all the stuff that most people are actually going out to BitTorrent and Megaupload to go get," that would make Hoffman very happy. "I can't tell you the number of blog posts I've read about 'I want to watch show X. I go to Netflix, not there. I go to Hulu, not there. Crap, BitTorrent.'"

People would throw down good money for the convenience of watching whatever they wanted. What possible reason could content providers have for not taking their cash? "They don't want to take the money in that way because it hurts old friends of theirs," Hoffman said. "So instead they want the power to stop YouTube. And that's exceedingly problematic."

Hoffman is frustrated with the current system. "I can't [download a show or a game] and the only reason I can't do it is because it hurts some old business model. I point back to the fading signs of Tower Records on the side of buildings to show what's going to happen there." Tower Records was once the shining example of a cool record store, but lagging sales of physical media forced the chain to even close its flagship store in Manhattan in 2006.

That's a bold statement, and I'm not sure all the companies currently producing movies and television will suddenly go out of business. But the old retail dependency will start to evaporate as consoles continue to trend away from merely providing gaming content, as Hoffman also predicts. How great would it be to buy items like episodes and seasons of shows piecemeal instead having to buy a subscription service?

Honestly, I just want to watch the second season of Game of Thrones on April 1st without dropping $200 on cable and HBO for two months.

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