One day I want to tell stories for a living.
Not even one day; today. As soon as anybody looks at my scribblings and says ‘hey, I’ll pay money for that’, I’m good to go. In the meantime, I’ll keep working to get better, but the long term aim is to get to a point where I can leave terrible hospitality jobs behind and make writing my whole life. While so far my most high profile output has been in theatre, I’d love to do novels, film and TV as well. I’m a little ambitious like that. But above all, I am so attracted to the collaborative style of TV. Put a bunch of writers in a room and let them plot out ten hours of story together? That sounds like a dream come true. Working in TV would, for me, be something amazing. And I would hope that the pay would be enough for me to get by.
Which, according to some parties is the problem. Television today is the leading medium for quality, exciting and interesting storytelling and every year more new and experimental shows crawl out of the woodwork to become the latest critical darling. But as TV gets better, more people want it and so millions across the world resort to illegal downloading, ostensibly strangling the amount of money a show can make and therefore robbing the talented creatives of the payment they deserve. It’s a scary thought, right? That quality TV may soon be killed by its own fans? It’s the sort of concept that should make somebody like me tremble in fear that my dream future could be snatched away from me before I have a chance to see it realised.
And yet, I pirate.
I don’t even pretend I don’t. I illegally download every new episode of every show that I love. Even series like Hannibal or Community, which are struggling in the ratings and need the support of legal viewing. Shows like Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad too, which hardly need my help to become more popular. I pirate every single damn show that comes my way, and I am okay with it. So, the newspapers would have you believe, I am the ultimate hypocrite; somebody who seeks to make money in the industry I am helping to destroy. Look at it that way, I’m not only a bad person, I’m an idiot to boot. Right?
Maybe not. Let me throw you a quick anecdote. A few years ago, I used illegal sites to download single songs I liked. Things like BearShare or BeeMP3. I have no idea if they even exist anymore, but I used them like crazy. Any time I heard a new song I wanted, I would find it there and get it. And yet… I haven’t seen those sites in years. Why? Because I use iTunes. I pay for every new song I want. So, by the logic of any good pirate, why the hell am I paying when I could just get it for free? The answer is simple; because it’s easier.
See, on a dodgy site, you never know what you’re going to get. I could download a song and half the time I would get a bad cover, a remix, or, in particularly awful cases, a lovely little computer virus. On iTunes, I pay $1.69 and I get… exactly the song I want. By the right singer, with good audio quality, and it goes straight to my phone and computer in seconds. None of this copy and paste garbage. It is simple, easy and not all that expensive; yeah, I’ll pay to get the stuff I want when it’s this easy.
So imagine my excitement when, several days after the Breaking Bad Season Four Finale, I noticed the episode on iTunes for $2.99. I remember being stunned; why the hell had I been searching for torrents I could trust when it was right here for practically nothing? I’d just use iTunes in future, right?
The problem with this idea is hidden away in the above paragraph; several days. Sure, I could download the episode and pay a meagre fee for the assured visual and audio quality, but I would have to wait. And I’m sorry, but that isn’t good enough. In the age of social media, where we have on Facebook and Twitter overseas friends who will see things as they come out, I am not willing to just avoid the internet until whatever it is I am waiting to watch makes its way to iTunes. Sometimes that is as little as a day; all very well and good, provided you are not a person who loves engaging in debate immediately post consumption of your pop culture of choice, someone who goes straight to websites like The A.V. Club or Den of Geek to read reviews and see what people think. The water cooler moments people talk about, the moments in TV shows where people gather around the water cooler to discuss them the next day, are now international and online. But things on the internet pass quickly, and that day iTunes would have me wait robs me of the thrill of being a part of that conversation.
So my question to content providers is this; in this day and age, do you expect viewers outside America to be so archaic and disconnected from modern culture that we will just sit and twiddle our thumbs while the rest of the world of fandom goes crazy, until you deign we can watch something legally? How hard is it to put an episode of Game of Thrones on iTunes the moment it airs? Oh, sorry, my mistake; it’s really hard considering thanks to a deal full of foresight and intelligence, Foxtel are now the only Australian company legally allowed access to Game of Thrones.
The logic of this decision was… what exactly? To try and force viewers to get Foxtel to see that one show they want? To pay exorbitant fees for channels full of garbage and re-runs, just so we can see Game of Thrones on time for those ten weeks a year it is on? So please inform me why the fuck I would pay for Foxtel when I only want that one thing and I can get it online for free?
I’d much prefer to buy it on iTunes as soon as it comes out (meaning I can watch it when I want rather than when the channel decides to air it) and pay that little bit of money in order for ease of access. Also I love the fact that I’m paying for a show I adore. I would happily do that. But there is a big difference between paying specifically for what I want and paying a lot more money for a lot of content among which happens to be the thing I want.
How are the networks not seeing this disparity?
The solution is simple. Make things easy for us. Make paying for content the easiest, safest and fastest option and I guarantee people will do it. Why do you think Netflix (another thing we still don’t have here) is so successful? The choices here are simple and logical. To the studios, the ball is in your court.
Just some thoughts.