Why Hollywood Is So Dumb About Piracy (Part 2)

advice, Hollywood

Hollywood © by Cynthia_x

A few people seemed confused by my last post on why Hollywood is wrong about piracy, so I wanted to clarify a bit.

I’m not suggesting anyone get rid of distribution. I am suggesting that piracy is not the threat Hollywood is making it out to be.

It’s best practices in many industries to give away a certain number of copies of your books or songs or images for free – because the more eyeballs that see it (or ears that hear it) – the more money it makes in the long run. This might appear counterintuitive to the kind of corporate executive who manages intellectual properties like commodities – who believes that media should be sold and managed like the goods on the shelves at Walmart. Reduce shrinkage. Prosecute shoplifters. Spend a fortune on traditional advertising, but show no one the actual product til they buy.

However, selling TV and movies is very different from selling a 24-pack of toilet paper. People are going to talk only so much about consumer goods like toilet paper – in person or online – no matter how good your marketing is. But people want to talk about culture. That’s one of the main things we talk about – we identify with what we like, we reference culture to signal we’re part of the gang who likes Bon Iver and Game of Thrones and Annie Hall, we use stories we saw in movies, TV or books to help us make sense of the chaotic mess that surrounds us in our own lives – we enjoy telling each other about what we’ve seen. It’s part of the fun of being human.

And Hollywood wants us talking about their shit. Because out of ten people – if two of them are talking about a movie they saw, the chances are far greater that the other eight may go buy a ticket. Or pay somewhere else down the revenue stream.

But to get more people talking about it, you have to seed the storm cloud a bit. They’re starting to catch on – like when they put Portlandia’s season premiere online before it aired and ratings in key demos jumped 81%. But that kind of thinking needs to extend across the entire industry, not just TV, which is used to giving its shit away for free.

Piracy achieves the same effect, though less formally. If Hollywood were to formalize the practice – legitimize piracy, make downloading titles fast and easy and inexpensive, none of this would be a problem. And yeah, certain distribution arms might have to change to accommodate this, but distribution always has to change to accommodate new technology. Outdated industry models will wither and die in the face of new technology and new consumer preferences. This is what market pricing is all about – letting consumer demand set prices. And if that’s readjusting prices downward, resetting what could be seen as a speculative bubble so that inflated movie budgets have to go away and huge marketing campaigns are replaced by good word-of-mouth buzz, then so be it. The industry will be healthier for it.

Why Hollywood Is So Dumb About Piracy

advice, Hollywood

Fireman Trying to Turn Off Broken Hydrant Under the Hollywood Sign, LA, 2006 © by exposo

Hollywood is always behind the times – whether being the last to know “oh no you didn’t” is not funny or the loudest objectors to new technologies (which they always say is going to decrease their profit, even though it always increases it) .

Most hilarious, though, is the way Hollywood is always first to pat themselves on the back for being cool, forward-looking, innovative, young (that just means they’re quick to hire young sociopath-douchebags with no track record then throw up their hands when they have no idea why the stuff they produce is such shit) –

But the fact remains, Hollywood is one of the oldest, whitest, crankiest-old-man businesses around.

The huge studios (which are all owned by enormous multinational corporations) are up in arms about piracy because they see themselves as the “authors” of their films and TV shows and think that anyone “stealing” their films and TV shows by downloading them illegally represents a dangerous threat to their bottom line. Or at least to the capitalist law and order system that has allowed their parent companies to rape and pillage our economies and natural resources for hundreds of years.

The biggest flaw in this logic is the idea that *money* is the greatest resource an audience can trade to the author of a film in exchange for the privilege of seeing that film. (That a corporation can be the “author” of a film is a debate for another day.)

Attention is a far more valuable commodity – one that Hollywood sometimes spends more money to acquire than they reap in money in return.

Which would you rather have:

– A movie that cost you $5 million to make and grossed $10 million, but that no one heard of, no one talked about, no one cared about, or –

– A movie that cost you $5 million to make and grossed $5 million, but that everyone heard of, everyone’s talking about, everyone cares about?

I would rather the second. Because in the former case, you have a commodity with a limited afterlife. In the latter case, you have a commodity with a far greater afterlife, both financially and culturally. Benefits accrue to the studio and the creative professionals involved in the film that are not measured in money but rather in terms of how much impact a project has – how many people saw it?

During awards season, important people (people who might be voting in the big awards) receive free screeners of anything that stands a chance of getting an award. Studios want to make sure the important people – the tastemakers – have seen their stuff. Considering it costs nothing to allow important people to download video for free – why not let the important people’s families also have access? They probably have a lot of important friends who vote too. And they probably spend a lot of time talking about this stuff at boring holiday parties. And if we’re expanding the circle of who is important, why not make it certain zip codes, because I think we can all agree that most taste is made in a few central taste zones in Brooklyn and Los Feliz.

My point is this: everyone is important. Everyone is a tastemaker. Do I want some kid in a village in India to be able to watch my movie for free because he downloaded it illegally? Fuck yeah. Because that kid is important. And getting my movie in the hands of that kid is more important than the pennies I/we could make off him. Pennies we no doubt would never make because he would have never made it to the theatre.

A huge part of a movie or TV show’s budget – sometimes WAY more than the costs of production – is marketing and advertising. Imagine there was a system where the youngest, most independent-minded, most hooked-in online could access and see movies and TV (sometimes before they’re even released) and spread word early whether something needs to be seen to be part of the conversation or not. We have that system in place and that’s piracy – and it’s the fairness at its heart – the fact that Hollywood can’t just throw a ton of plastic Happy Meal toys in our landfills to make us see their stupid movies – that they hate. It means quality stands on its own, and that getting firehosed in the face with marketing campaigns won’t blind us to the shitstorm you just made.

The bottom line is this: Hollywood spends hundreds of millions of dollars a year on marketing to get people to see their stuff, trying to get them to talk about it – when the best marketing is and always has been – make something great and put it where people can see it.

Right now there is tension in the market between the way consumers want to consume their movies and T.V. – in my living room, with my twitter friends – and the way Hollywood wants us to consume it – in theaters, on the day and time they specify, on approved devices. However, it doesn’t serve them to continue resisting their own customers’ preferences. Just as the music industry no longer found piracy to be a major problem once digital downloads were widely available at the right price, so will Hollywood find this “problem” will go away once they get their heads out of their asses and wake up to the world we now live in.

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Hypocrisy in Hollywood
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