Entries in Film (1)

Monday
Apr092012

Crowdsourcing the Movies

Recently, after reading an insightful article on AnandTech covering the issues with one of Blu-ray’s newest DRM schemes, my mind wandered to thinking about the future of DRM in our evolving digital landscape. The article above rightly states that piracy cannot be entirely prevented and DRM is just there to slow the pirates. DRM is not only wasteful, it makes things tricky for both producer and consumer. But what if there was a way to eliminate the need for DRM in the first place?

 

Currently the state of piracy stands that once a movie is released on Blu-Ray (and sometimes before) it is almost immediately pirated because the DRM can be broken and decrypted so that the movie can be ripped, repackaged and distributed. Pirates are seemingly always one step ahead of any type of encryption scheme or DRM, making it near impossible to prevent a complete stop to pirating. For example, multiple Academy Award winning film Hugo, which was released on Blu-Ray April 2nd is already available as Blu-Ray from numerous torrent communities such as Pirate Bay. DRM really only poses a problem for the casual owner who might want to backup his purchased Blu-Ray movies to hard drive or other storage solutions.

 

As it stands now, the only time a movie is protected from piracy is from completion of the movie to its release on disc, be it Blu-Ray, DVD or even digital downloads, and away from the reach of any potential pirates. But with the continued growth in digital media and technology awareness, it is conceivable that the lag time between theatrical release and piracy will become closer and closer to zero. The reason why Blu-Ray releases usually occur three to four months after the theatrical release is an attempt to occur losses at the box office due to pirating. In fact, Hollywood has seen a general increase in revenue throughout the last decade despite the constant cries of the damage done by copyright infringement. An article titled Reel Piracy conducted by researchers from Wellesley College in Cooperation with the National Bureau of Economic Research confirms that box office sales have not been affect since the invention of torrenting in 2003. But as general level of computer education rises, this may not continue to hold true.

 

Imagine in the future, that immediately upon theatrical release it would be possible to pirate a new movie for free in the comfort of your own home, second by second in sync with the theater showing.  This combined with a more technologically fluent society would no doubt cause a significant impact on box office sales as well as overall revenue.

With the possibility of lost revenue, studios will again resort to concocting new forms of DRM, which will most likely again be a wasted effort, and possibly even more detrimental to the average consumer than current DRM.

 

A different solution to this problem would be to crowdsource the movie in a way similar to Kickstarter. Studios could set a base contribution level, similar to the price of a theater ticket today, and once the goal is met the studio could produce and then release the movie online to the public at large. Backers who contributed to the base level could then watch the movie streamed online or watch it for free at the theater. One notable difference would be that instead of announcing a fixed goal, have a hidden minimum goal similar to a reserve auction. This would encourage continued backing that may otherwise drop off one a state goal is met.

 

This would eliminate DRM because studios would be able to meet revenue goals even before the release of the movie. While there may be some people who are able to piggyback off the contributions of the original consumers, the content producers would have already been adequately compensated with the original self implemented goals. Additionally for those who may have missed out on the initial sale, the studio could also offer direct DRM free downloads of the movie for a reasonable fee. This would create a single convenient source for distribution and sales. Convenience is a great deterrence to piracy as seen by the success of services such as Netflix and Steam. While it is certainly possible to personally download and organize Netflix or Steam’s entire content library for free, it is simply much easier for consumers to for these services. This also has the added benefit of providing users with an ethical way to easily purchase content and customer support from service providers should users have any troubles.

 

DRM is just as much a problem for the consumer as it is for the content creator, and will become increasingly more so as technology grows and evolves. Only by embracing new methods for sale and distribution can we enter a state where both the consumer and producer of commercial good can feel appropriately compensated.