Steal This Film

Steal This Film

I finally got around to discovering, downloading and watching the documentary, Steal This Film about the MPAA’s attempts to shut down the Swedish BitTorrent tracker site, The Pirate Bay. Of course it’s available for free download at Steal This Film and the Pirate Bay and its method of distribution is, naturally, BitTorrent.

The interesting thing for me is that I decided to not watch TV tonight and watch this on my laptop instead. I unwittingly (well, maybe wittingly) did exactly what I said Apple’s iTV media centre would mean people would do in my previous post. That is, I decided to watch some free, independently produced content instead. Because I downloaded the podcast version, it ended up in (the new) iTunes and it was a pretty seamless experience actually.

So here’s the deal: Independently produced content, distributed for free essentially (because BitTorrent makes use of everyone’s spare bandwidth) and it has already been seen by several thousand people (I’d love to know the actual numbers if someone out there knows).

Lawrence Lessig posted a link to a commentary on the film on Open Business, which makes a couple of key points:

The footage was simply stored on a 250 GB external hard-drive which now costs less than £80. The once-prohibitively expensive HD video cameras were borrowed and editing software, of course, downloaded. All in all the movie surely cost less than £2000 and had been downloaded by over two thousand internet users in its first day of release. While the movie makes some use of copyrighted material to illustrate its points most of it is either news footage from TV or original footage.

Later on the post says:

Remember Tarnation? Its just a year or two ago when this movie made international headlines, because it won a film price and was produced with a budget of 218US $ using iMovie. This was seen then as truly revolutionary.

Well, that was then and for distribution the movie still had to use professional networks to be seen an to get into cinemas. Now a couple of friends could also go with somebody like the Piratebay for marketing and distribution. This is film production completely outside the traditional industry. Its not too far off to see the Piratebay acting like a professional film company.

So combined with the ease of watching this stuff on your TV (and lets face it, sitting in front of a computer watching films is a little nerdy still, even though I do it quite often) and an open distribution model there are many costs that immediately get covered.

The filmmakers also set up the ubiquitous buy the T-shirt site and Paypal donation account so it might also make some money that way to enable them to make the second part. There’s also a wiki if you want to contribute to the process.

The real point is that it opens up the debate about copyright and copyright abuse. Also frightening is the willingness of the US government to put pressure on the Swedish government to act illegally by raiding the Pirate Bay in the first place.

You Tube Advertising Dollars

Some enlightening “theoretical” figures being bounced around in Endgaget’s series about You Tube’s potential for generating revenue. Clicker contributor, Stephen Speicher, even came up with a new metric – “Eyeball Minutes” (but are these adjusted to account for those with only one eye?)

I have written quite often about this previously (see related links below), in particular the relationship to traditional TV shows and advertising. So it’s great to see some figures, however theoretical, being produced about how this might work. Speicher, once again, uses Judson Laipply’s “Evolution of Dance” clip as an example (my goodness, Judson must be pretty happy right now – 15,529,686 downloads as of today and it’s not even that funny):

Just for fun let’s do one other comparison. Let’s look at ad revenue:

Again we will use “Evolution of Dance” as a comparison. If you still don’t think that micro-content could be a macro business, consider the following. Six minutes of network content would be accompanied by 1 minute and 30 seconds of advertising. For a show with 15 million viewers, expect an ad rate in the neighborhood of 200k per 30 second slot. That’s right; “Evolution of Dance” would garner 600k dollars in ad revenue if calculated with basic “network math.

Check the all three stories for more – it’s an interesting read.

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Warner Bros. to distribute via BitTorrent

I can’t believe I missed this story last week, but Warner Bros. have finally started to get their head around the idea that BitTorrents are the most efficient way to distribute large files online and have announced they’ll start seeding their movies when released onto DVD. So, only about three years too late and after trying to shut down most BitTorrent servers for ages.

From Yahoo’s story:

“If we can convert 5, 10, 15 percent of the peer-to-peer users that have been obtaining our product from illegitimate sources to becoming legitimate buyers of our product, that has the potential of a huge impact on our industry and our economics,” said Kevin Tsujihara, president of the Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Group.

It’s exactly what lots of people have been banging on about for some time. I would have loved to have listened into the conversations at Warner Bros. about this because I imagine there are some very smart people there and some old-guard dunderheads who wrangled over this for a while. There’s not much mention of how they plan to avoid piracy or whether they have given up on this to a certain degree. But here’s the whiff of compromise:

The studio also will sell permanent copies of films and TV shows online that can be burned to a backup DVD, although the copy will only play on the computer used to download the film and not on standard DVD players.

That’s pretty lame. It fails to recognise the increasing trend of people networking their computers/media centres with their AV set-ups or use the computer as an entertainment ‘pip’e into the house before then deciding where they can play it. It’s like buying a DVD and being told you can only play it in the bedroom, but not in your lounge. And in what way is that a guard against piracy? Anyone really interested in large scale DVD burning style piracy will go a different route (and almost certainly any DRM will be cracked in no time).

The lawyers obviously got their “marketing point” into the story too:

Studios believe that offering reasonably priced legal alternatives will be preferable to downloading files that could contain viruses or poor quality copies of films.

This is always the “scary internet” tactics that copyright lawyers use. It’s akin to telling people smoking is bad for them – people who do it know the risks. In general files I’ve seen tend to be excellent – they’re simply rips from a DVD and quality certainly isn’t an issue (which is why the studios are so paranoid about digital files in the first place).

Ultimately its good to see a major studio take a step in the right direction (and entertaining to see BitTorrent’s Web site suddenly go all glossy and corporate – even the .org site is all pseudo Web 2.0 styled) – when did that happen? I must have been sleeping…)

The article does make a common factual error though:

Last year, BitTorrent agreed to remove links to pirated versions of movies from its Web site.

I’m reasonably certain that BitTorrent never had any illegal versions of movies on its Web site, that’s the whole point, a torrent file is just checksum information, not the actual data file itself. That’s why it’s been so hard for the MPAA to get a handle on a roving swarm. Smells like lawyer talk to me.