The film industry and the Internet do not get along

As wonderful as it is, the Internet has a number of particularly pernicious traits, including an unfortunate tendency to make people addicted to free content. If the free content happens to be a blog post or a home video, that’s all well and good.

However, if the free content in question is a real movie, we have a problem. The production of even a half-decent film takes highly significant financial and human resources — civilians cannot even imagine just how expensive, time-consuming and labor-intensive it is to make a film of any kind. And all it takes to destroy it is an illegal Internet upload.

Movies and the Internet do not get along and must be kept well apart. The availability of a film free of charge on the Internet massively reduces its value, and must therefore be fought strenuously and without compromise.

That piracy harms the film industry is self-evident, but what should be done about it? Here is how I would do it: keep movies off DVDs (and hence off the Internet) for as long as possible. A movie must only exist as 35mm film prints in the first phase of its life, and this phase must be as long as possible. If the movie only exists as 35mm prints, it is next to impossible to pirate it. Piracy only really kicks in when DVDs become available. Therefore the DVD release must be massively delayed. Make people buy those tickets. Let them buy tickets to your movie more than once, if it is good enough. Make people feel that the DVD release is so far away, so utterly unattainable, that they should go out and watch the movie in a theater if they want to watch the movie at all.

Bring back second-run movie theaters. Bring back double features. Squeeze a movie for all it’s worth before those wretched DVDs are released; exploit the movie until its film prints are so scratched and full of dust that you have to bin them. Then, and only then, should you release the DVDs. Of course they will be instantly pirated, but at least you made decent revenues during the long theatrical run. Tickets will have been sold and seats will have felt the profitable warmth of moviegoers’ buttocks.

Send a clear message that good movies are valuable and that people will have to pay good money for the privilege of watching them. If they are unwilling to cooperate, let them stay at home and watch “user-generated content” on YouTube.

There was a time when content was valuable,
because there was no way to enjoy it other than by paying a decent price for it. The Internet is conditioning this generation’s kids to feel entitled to an unlimited supply of movies free of charge. This madness must stop. The movie studios should take aggressive and relentless action to defend the value of their output.

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3 thoughts on “The film industry and the Internet do not get along

  1. I just found and have greatly enjoyed your site, and your insightful articles, but this will never work.

    The studios will never go for it, as home releases have raced toward near instantaneous . . .

    Viewers will never go for it, because there is SO MUCH content out there that the idea that audiences will be forced to pay full ticket prices over and over to see the same movie is just 1989 thinking, and will never happen. Those people will spend money on countless other movies ( why do you think movie runs end in a matter of days now? Because there are 20 other movies waiting to replace it! )

    Ultimately, there will be MORE and MORE content coming out each year from now until the end of time, not less. The days of quietly contemplating all facets of a movie, and seeing it many times are long gone. Most people I know have never seen a movie, TV episode, played a game through, or read an entire book more than once. There’s no time. Only the best content even gets seen all the way through.

    Tragically, despite endless argument to the contrary, there IS NO SOLUTION to piracy. The only advice that matters any more is “make something BETTER than free”, something not easily replicated, and at least you’ll still make money, but the movies will always be pirated, and that’s because the content has no value to most people.

    Hardware is a little better, but not every one can sell a widget.

    I’m just saying, I enjoy your site, but your attitude on this just comes off “grumpy old man” and does not offer a valid, TIMELY solution, that will work in the world of about 2015 rather than 1985.

    Your closing statement “Send a clear message that good movies are valuable and that people will have to pay good money for the privilege of watching them. If they are unwilling to cooperate, let them stay at home and watch “user-generated content” on YouTube.”

    is completely out of touch with how the world works, and even if you could convince studios to do it your way, which you won’t, as it would be financial suicide, you’re showing that you don’t really understand the world any more, and I feel sorry for you in a way.

    I don’t want to call out anyone in particular, good or bad, but take a serious look at some of the independent film houses that produce shorts for Youtube. Some of it is stunning, and the end result is every measure as good as something on the big screen, and better than most of it.

    The truth is, as a film maker, you’re not selling water in the desert. No one NEEDS films. They are a luxury item, and when there is a glut of free or pirated content, no one will pay a luxury price for it. End of story.

    • Hi John,

      Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts. Your points are sound and insightful.

      When I wrote this post a few years ago I thought that the studios truly had a shot at enforcing the model I suggested, and I have no doubt that at least a few astute executives raised similar issues behind closed doors (to no avail, as we can see). Now, a few years on and significantly more of a grumpy old man than I was back then, I see that it’s clearly not going to happen.

      I remain of the opinion that this model could work for the absolute crème de la crème content — movies that are so outstanding that nothing comparable is available elsewhere; for me that would be Spielberg. To an extent the very best movies do get this treatment, though not as stringently enforced as I would like.

      You wrote that my solution needs to work in 2015 rather than 1985, but what is the solution, if not the enforcement of scarcity via the model I suggested?

      By and large, however, I agree with you. Your assessment is correct. Pandora’s box has been opened and we are not going back to 1995 any time soon. Such is the nature of virtually unlimited interconnectedness.

      Thanks for stopping by and I hope you find the rest of my website useful!

      -Ed

      • I really don’t think that exclusivity is the solution. I am more and more hating going out to the movies. The audience being the main reason. I’m grumpy old man about smart phones, even though I have a Galaxy S III. I just think that being at a show or movie is not the time to have that crap out.

        I used to think that huge, limited issue DVD box sets were the way to go, but that didn’t take off, and now even Blu faces extinction at the hands of digital distribution. I have 22TB of space on my computer, so I can hold as much stuff as I want, and I look forward to a day when direct digital is the main way we get stuff.

        I make content too, and I don’t have a solution. No one does. I know you love Spielberg, and a couple of others, but the average audience doesn’t care WHO made the thing. On the internet, FAR MORE praise is heaped on the one who SHARES something cool than the one who MADE it.

        That is the ultimate lesson here, and I think the secret is finding a way to monetize “sharing” a movie rather than making it.

        Sad, but true.

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