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What the TV industry can learn from cable-cutters and pirates

July 02, 2013|By Alexandra Le Tellier
  • Greg Hardy is a "tagger" who watches movies and TV shows for Netflix, giving each one labels used for the company's sophisticated recommendation algorithm.
Greg Hardy is a "tagger" who watches movies and TV shows for Netflix,… (Los Angeles Times )

With the cost of cable TV on the rise, cord-cutters are taking matters into their own hands and opting for streaming services such as Netflix that are far less expensive than traditional TV cable packages.

I too am this close to canceling my exorbitant cable bill, but every time I’m about to make the call, I read an argument like this one, “Sen. McCain's 'a la carte' cable could kill TV diversity,” and I just can’t do it.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t also pay for streaming services. I am absolutely a TV junkie -- the industry’s dream consumer.

Our friends up north, however, not so much. “Unfortunately for the industry,” reports Company Town’s Ryan Faughnder, “San Francisco cord-cutters seem more inclined to steal their entertainment.” 

That’s according to Sanford C. Bernstein analyst Todd Juenger, who recently hosted a focus group composed of cord-cutters. In his report, he writes that most of the participants “cited pirating (illegal downloads) as a common mechanism,” causing him to wonder whether San Francisco cord-cutters were more tech-savvy than the panelists in his New York focus group: "Perhaps it is the proximity to the tech-savvy Silicon Valley.”

Eventually, though, as technology seeps into every part of our daily lives, everyone will be tech-savvy enough to know how to source and download pirated content. I can harp on and on about how it’s unfair to steal from creators, but who has time to listen to me when technology makes it so easy to download and watch “Game of Thrones” for free?

The White House is working on curbing piracy, and Hollywood has come up with innovative tools as well. But more must be done.  

“We’re the idea country. We’re the country that has become so successful largely because we have ideas that we can monetize, intellectual property that we can monetize,” David Lowery said in a recent episode of “Studio 360.” If we continue down the path of pirating content, we will “[undermine] the entire American economy.”

So what’s the solution?  

I recently broached this topic in a “Game of Thrones” Google+ community and got some interesting responses.

“People would pay if there was a standalone way to pay aside from having cable and then HBO on top of that,” wrote Darren Steer. “People are shouting ‘take my money,’ but HBO won't accept it until the DVDs are released months later. It's archaic.”  

“I think torrents and streams can advertise better than trailers; collectors like myself will not buy sight unseen,” wrote Dean Flemming. “But once we commit to something, we buy everything devotedly. I imagine there are going to be hundreds of thousands of people who will want to possess high-quality DVDs on their shelf eventually even if they saw it by a torrent first.”

I absolutely understand what Flemming is saying, but the industry has been active in responding to consumer demand by showing selected episodes of programs on YouTube. That’s how I got hooked on “Girls.” I watched the first episode on YouTube for free, and then I subscribed to HBO.

Readers also shared their perspective in the comments of a recent post:

“Piracy is not always about no-paying, it is often about availability,” argues 177ark177.Music piracy made the same arguments; they adapted and you can purchase a song a la carte. Apply the same model to TV and movies and you will see less piracy when you see more availability.” [Ed. Note: This comment was edited for clarity.]

“If studios want me to pay for TV, they should provide legal downloads that work on more than one manufacturer's devices,” suggests mrpaul. “I watch shows when I take the train to work. If it doesn't work on both my Android phone and my Apple computer, then they'll lose money and it will be their own fault.”

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Follow Alexandra Le Tellier on Twitter @alexletellier

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