Picture by Vlad
In a recent news item in the Australians's Deal magazine, there was a piece on a fairly familiar topic: movie piracy, and the role which dodgy video recordings made in cinemas and then shared online play in creating a global black market for new-release movies. The magazine quoted a local movie industry executive to underscore the point:
When a new blockbuster has a simultaneous release, that means it often opens first in Australia, Village Roadshow national sales manager Brett Rosengarten says. "Australia and New Zealand have Thursday openings, whereas the US and Europe open new movies on Fridays. Along with the different time zone, it gives pirates here a clear head start."
On the surface, that argument seems pretty reasonable. Save New Zealand, we're about as far ahead of the US as it's possible time-zone to get while maintaining the near-simultaneous release dates movie marketing executives seek in the global media age. And our films are still in English, so there won't be overdubs or subtitles as a distraction. That could well make us a prime source of pirate camcorder flicks, however unappealing those recordings generally turn out to be.
But are Australian release dates really so uniformly offset? To put that to the test, I looked up the general release dates (using IMDB) for the 10 biggest movies of 2009 (as listed on Wikipedia). The full results are in the chart below.
Four of these movies conform to the Thursday Australia/Friday US release schedule Rosengarten suggests, but it's notable that more than half of them don't. In the case of three blockbuster sequels (for Harry Potter, Ice Age and Transformers) the release date was the same — which would give Australia an edge, but only a slight one, especially if midnight screenings happened in the US.
And in some cases we fell behind. Sherlock Holmes opened a day later here (different Christmas launch approaches), The Hangover almost a week later, and Up a monumental three months later (conforming to a familiar pattern of family titles being held off for school holidays).
So there's already a problem with the idea we always get things first, and that's before you factor in the relative slowness of upload speeds if you share a film via BitTorrent, multiplied by the relatively slow upload speeds available to local users and offset by the rendering time on your PC of choice. It's pretty clear that Australian camcorder pirates could cause some chaos, but it's also clear that their US counterparts will not be too far behind.
Now let me make this quite clear: I can't see any legitimate reason whatsoever why anyone needs to make or download a camcorder copy of a movie. It's a criminal act, and a lousy viewing experience to boot. That said, I don't think the entertainment industry does itself any favours by making blanket statements that are pretty easily disproved.
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