Does TV Piracy Harm Or Help?

In some ways, this is the argument that never ends. Over the weekend, American director David Petrarca stated that he wasn't fussed about people pirating Games Of Thrones, because it creates a "cultural buzz" around the product. I'm not entirely convinced.

Despite the onset of alternative entertainment avenues that often get column inches such as simple Internet browsing and video games, Australia remains a nation of couch potatoes. The latest OZTAM multi-screen report suggest that Australians watch an average of over 91 hours of TV every single month, and that's a figure that hasn't changed in the past ten years. We love our tellies, in other words, but TV is a hungry creature. You can only watch repeats of MASH so many times before you've committed them all to memory, so new material is a bit of a must.

If you believe the piracy figures — and given they're reporting on illicit activity and everyone reporting them has one spin or another they'd favour — we're also a nation of pirates, with HBO's Game Of Thrones being a particular favourite. Just to whet your appetite, have a trailer for the next season, as yet unaired and therefore not yet on the wide pirate seas.

David Petrarca has directed episodes of Game Of Thrones, and over the weekend he appeared at the Perth Writer's Festival. The Sydney Morning Herald reports when asked about Game Of Thrones being the most pirated show of 2012

Petrarca shrugged and said the illegal downloads did not matter because such shows thrived on "cultural buzz" and capitalised on the social commentary they generated. "That's how they survive."

I get what he means to a certain extent, because it's a variant on the "piracy is advertising" argument in one form, and in the specific case of Game Of Thrones the fact that so many of my friends and colleagues were endlessly raving about it led me to seek it out — although in my case, it was via renting the DVD box set from my local video store and gorging on it rather than downloading the episodes illegally.

HBO's also in a rather interesting position when it comes to piracy, because it's a premium US cable channel with a rather large income stream, which means the sting of piracy isn't quite so cumbersome to it. Still, I'm sure that Petrarca's HBO bosses don't quite share his viewpoint. Or, as ex-Epic Games developer Cliff Bleszinski put it on Twitter this morning:

As an HBO subscriber here's a shout out to everyone who pirates Game of Thrones. Glad I can fund it for you. ;P

Therein lies the problem. Development of a premium TV series that doesn't look like it was shot on stock made out of clingfilm (mental note: experiment to see if that's feasible; a fortune could be mine!) costs real money, and somebody, somewhere has to be willing to pay for it. I'm not entirely neutral on this, given that I work in a creative capacity, but I'm also all too well aware that it's a problem that often revolves around the same arguments of access and price, something that I've argued at length elsewhere.

So, here's the challenge. Let's say for the sake of argument that piracy is just advertising. How do you fund premium TV programs sufficiently, or is it just an issue of "I don't care as long as somebody else pays?"

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Comments

    I think its interesting that Avatar was both the most downloaded and the highest grossing film of all time (at least it was a year ago when I read the article about it) so does that mean that if it wasn't for piracy they would have made more from the piece of blue crap? or does it mean that all those people downloading it gave it more exposure and therefore it made more money as a result? I'm asking I don't know.

    Personally my issue is this: I don't re-watch TV shows. Ok maybe things like Family Guy and The Simpsons can be watched over again but after I have watch GoT I have no desire to watch them again - I already know what happens.
    So having said that - I can't bring myself to purchase the physical copies of these shows upon release. I have foxtel - $110 per month - the content is crap and spread so thinly that realistically I would have to purchase ALL of the channels - on top of that I have to pay extra for HD Foxtel subscription and another charge to be able record Foxtel programs. Then Foxtel have the nerve to insist that the majority of programs have advertising.
    Pirating is illegal - but I am going to continue. I already pay Foxtel for the shows - not going to pay any more.

    foxtel/ pay tv is too expensive in Aus. especially if there is only 3 or 4 shows i actually want to watch. If HBO set up a donations page for GoT, i'd happily donate, otherwise i'll stick to pirating and buying the blu-rays when they come out

    My wooden leg and eye patch are on stand by for March 31st, although The Walking Dead is keeping them warm in the mean time. ARRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGG

    I don't know... Occasionally I buy the first season of something to try it out, but most of the time I find I download at least the first episode... If I like it, I buy it. In the case of Game of Thrones, I'm practically a release-date purchaser now, but I started with pirating. It's convenient, and in pretty much every case where the show is of great quality, it ends with me making a decision to invest.

    I should also mention that, living in Aus, sometimes if you want to keep up to date with something, avoid lengthy cliffhangers or - as with a very popular show like Game of Thrones - make sure you don't fall behind everyone else, you're kinda driven to download it. For example, I've got the 2nd season pre-ordered, as I made that decision when I downloaded a few ep's of the first season, but I still downloaded the episodes as they aired to keep up to date.

    I can see where he's coming from, though I can't directly say that pirating is a good thing... All I can say is that from personal experience, I pirate to get a 'taste', and if it's any good, that's when I purchase. Apart from that it usually boils down to delays in airing. There are definitely going to be people who don't care to invest in something they can just download and store in their own digital library, and in that regard, whilst it does spread the show, it's not exactly a good thing. But since you can't exactly avoid it too easily (it's gonna happen, whether you like it or not) - all you can do is hope that it spreads awareness of the show, and that a good portion of those people enjoy it to the point where they end up spending money on it.

      Ah the cliffhanger, it's only a couple of years ago that Australian television executives thought it was a good idea to hold on to the last episode of the season from many USA shows until the start of the next season. Why? Because many of the US series would have the story line, often one they had been building to for the entire season, run over the last two episodes of the season. For some reason the US viewers would get their conclusion, while the Aus TV executives figured we'd need a cliffhanger to keep us biting our fingers for the six months till they aired the next season. No wonder we're so jaded and don't mind pirating shows

    Since I bought an Apple TV I don't pirate anymore as I get access to the shows I want when they are released in the states (US account).

    The problem sometimes is the price. For instance, I went to buy a season of Boardwalk Empire which was $41! If it was $30 I would have bought without a thought. So......I downloaded in HD for free. Or I would have if I couldn't buy the exact same thing from the US iTunes Store for $30.

    Now I read how much VFX studios and they're employees are getting ripped and the whole thing makes me sick.

    It's not piracy if I'm going to buy it later. I have to use bittorrent to watch it now because I refuse - effing REFUSE - to be held hostage to someone else's delivery schedule, and I'm not going to endure spoilers from the northern hemisphere.
    When shows finish their run, I buy them on DVD. It's simple. They'll get my money later.

    I know this is not TV, but I would watch more movies at the cinemas if I could first watch a low quality version to see if the effects and story are worth paying the price to see it on a big screen.

    Basically I have a scale of what I am prepared to pay for content. At the moment I have no choice but to wait until it comes out on TV so they get basically nothing from me as I mute adds and do stuff on my computer, plus I get free to air satellite with adds from half way across the country and I am not likely to drive for 3 days each way to get a haircut.

    Until 6 months I'd had Foxtel since it started. So many years of subscribing. In those years I completely stopped watching free to air channels.

    However, Foxtel shot itself in its own foot by becoming just another TV channel filled with ads, offensively to my eyes showing happy couples my age or younger saying "I will be happy to die because I have XYZ insurance for less than a cup of coffee a day" at that point the grandkids run in smiling happily.

    Winter is coming to the USA on their 3/31, I fear Aussies won't see this winter until 2087 at least.

    For most people I know, we download because we're so passionate about a show that we can't wait to see it. Not only due to the lag from the US to Australia but also the fact we don't want to miss out on something and not be able to talk about it with those who have seen it.

    When it comes to Australian made television shows, for people with that same passion there would be no need to download because they would MAKE time to watch it when it airs so they don't 'miss out'.

    What we need is an on demand subscription service with content available from all the big players like HBO within 24hrs of airing on TV and available in 720p at least, I would happily subscribe to that. Netflix is great but the content can be lacking, we need something with all the networks on board.

    Morally I have no problem with it since I buy the Blu-ray set when it comes out anyway.

    I'm sorry guys but "is it right or wrong to pirate movies and TV" is really the wrong topic, it's simply economics 101 - Supply and Demand. Demand for these items is high but the those in charge of distribution restrict supply which enables them to make an inflated profit on their product. While there is more demand for the product than supply there will always be a market for somebody else to come in, be it your bootleg DVD seller down at the local market or speakeasy's during prohibition, or black market profiteers during the war.

    The movie and TV industry has as much hope of winning the war on piracy with their moral standpoint "Piracy is stealing" as prohibition did of stopping people from drinking. Nobody, except maybe @finaldelerium, buys that stand point any more than they buy that banks cant afford to pass on interest rate cuts. Hell best take down of the video piracy is stealing argument was from a comedian many years ago who said "No I wouldn't steal a car, but if my mate came around and said 'I just got the latest HSV V8 ute...want me to burn you a copy?' I'd be tempted."

    The visual media industry needs to learn from the recording industry (notice how we hardly ever talk about piracy in the recording industry any more) and adapt to new methods of distribution - which may well attract new pricing models - because they lost this battle long ago.

    BTW I think the revised Dr Who (2005) was one of the first shows that was claimed to owe much of it's success to video piracy creating a buzz for it

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