internet movies TV Uncategorized

Why video piracy won’t die.

These days, piracy is king. Anyone with basic Internet skills, a broadband connection, and a low-end PC can watch every TV show and movie ever produced. Hours after a new episode premieres, it’s uploaded to a dozen different services that allow instant playback. Even live sports streams aren’t hard to find.

Of course, content producers try to shut down these streaming sites. They lobby the feds to seize pirates’ domain names. They petition Google to remove links to the unsanctioned content.

But piracy prevention often seems like Whack-A-Mole. Shut down one site, and it resurrects itself the next day under new branding. Similarly, you can excise the Google links, but Google isn’t the only way to browse the web. Finally, the more “traditional” piracy options—Usenet and torrents, for example—continue to thrive. Video piracy just won’t die.

In some ways, today’s Internet TV mess resembles the music landscape, circa 2000. Back then, Napster and Kazaa made it simple to download entire music catalogs. And once music fans grew accustomed to downloading MP3s, they refused to return to the studios’ lucrative $18-per-CD business model. Napster had opened Pandora’s box, and the damage couldn’t be undone.

Eventually, the piracy problem forced the music studios to cut distribution deals with Apple. They made every album and every track available for purchase, legitimately, through a single vendor. Sales soared. iTunes’ success proved that customers would pay for reasonably-priced, conveniently-available digital content. Eventually, new business models—including paid streaming services like Spotify—began to surface.

Is the music industry as profitable as it was twenty years ago? No. But it’s far better off than it would have been, had the studios stubbornly refused to adapt.

Video content-makers must adapt, as well. Customers want a legitimate alternative to illegal streaming, and the studios haven’t provided one. The average viewer hates the recent trend of requiring a cable contract to stream shows online. And nobody likes hunting for a particular show across a dozen different online services (e.g. Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon, etc.), each with a different catalog.

Why can’t TV and movie studios give their customers what they want? One easy-to-use, on-demand service for all the content ever produced. Every movie ever filmed. Every TV show, from the smash hit to the obscure cult favorite. And every game from every sport, broadcast live.

Customers would gladly pay for such a service. If one company offered viewers all the content, instantly and reliably, viewers would abandon their illegal streams and fork over a fat monthly subscription.[1]

Of course, this is naive. Content deals are notoriously difficult, and no one service can negotiate with every studio. But until paying for content is at least as easy as stealing it, video piracy will live on.

  1. After all, very few consumers want to pirate. It’s dangerous, for one thing; if the studios catch you torrenting, you may face a hefty lawsuit. And streaming is unpleasant, since it forces you to wade through malware-infested, ad-plastered scam sites.  ↩

internet sports Uncategorized

Why is NBC’s Olympics video-streaming website so awful?

In the run-up to the 2014 Olympics, NBC tooted its own horn. Every event, the network boasted, would be streamed live, online. Viewers wouldn’t have to wait for the primetime broadcast or dodge social media spoilers all day. Instead, they could watch the drama unfold, as it happened, on NBC’s website.

What NBC didn’t explain is that the website would be maddening to use.

There are some minor quibbles we might have overlooked. Take the technical glitches, for example. Commercials interrupt the action at bizarre, seemingly random moments, and the video’s prone to constant buffering. And NBC employs “B team” announcers for its webcasts. These aren’t the top-notch commentators you’ll hear in primetime, but less-knowledgable, less-interesting foreign analysts.

But these are small-scale infractions, compared to the website’s cardinal sin: it’s utterly inscrutable and impossible to navigate.

NBC’s Olympics site includes no comprehensive menu for finding video streams. There’s no straightforward schedule you can click through to find your favorite event’s full replay. The search functionality is laughably useless. Even the overhyped “Gold Zone,” a daily stream that shows the best action as it happens, is difficult to find. Gold Zone’s URL changes daily, so you can’t bookmark it. Instead, you must somehow track down each day’s brand-new link. (Thank goodness for Twitter.)

Other video content is even harder to find. Take the medal ceremonies, for example. I’ve always loved seeing how athletes respond on the podium. They spend years toiling in obscurity, and then they get one moment in the sun. They’re sleep-deprived, homesick, and surrounded by patriotic fans and their family. When that anthem kicks in, strong emotions inevitably surface. This all makes for great TV drama.

But try—just try—to find medal ceremonies on NBC’s website. You’d think there’d be a “medal ceremonies” section—a single page dedicated to the heralded hardware handout. There isn’t. The only page I found, “Medal Ceremonies — Day One,” includes a broken video stream and an apologetic disclaimer: “This event has concluded; event replay will be available at 3:00 PM EST.” This, six days after “Day One.”

Why is NBC’s Olympics website so awful? The network spent hundreds of millions of dollars on its Games coverage. Why not throw a few million into UX design? Is the network really this inept?

I suspect not. My conspiracy theory: NBC intentionally borks its streaming site, so that viewers are forced to watch on traditional broadcast TV.

See, TV’s in a weird transition time. The writing’s on the wall: eventually all video will be online video. But the telcos are tough negotiators. They’re loathe to see their valuable satellite and cable customers cut the cord. So, they strike deals with the networks that prevent NBC (or ESPN or AMC) from streaming shows to non-subscribers. These days, you’re forced to authenticate as a cable or satellite customer if you want to stream your favorite shows.

And even if you can access online content, the networks would prefer that you didn’t. In terms of ad revenue, Internet video can’t compete with ‘broadcast’ television. More traditional TV viewers means higher ratings. Higher ratings mean higher ad rates. Higher ad rates make for more profitable broadcasts.

So it’s in NBC’s best interest to make the website impossibly frustrating. They’re hoping that you give up and turn back to the more reliable cable box. That way, the network can boast about its “forward-leaning” media strategy—without sacrificing its lucrative Nielsen numbers.

internet Uncategorized

Amazon considering price hike for Prime service in U.S.

Even at the higher price, Prime’s still a great deal. You get a streaming video library that’s comparable to Netflix, plus free shipping on just about everything. For those (like us) who live in the sticks, Prime is amazingly convenient.