Thieves Are Your Best Customers in Waiting

Regarding The Oatmeal’s spot-on comic, “I tried to watch Game of Thrones and this is what happened”, and Andy Ihnatko’s well-circulated response, I could simply link to Marco and Jeremy’s posts with the succinct endorsement of, “Nailed it.” But as someone who’s spent a lot of time inside large media companies over the years, I feel compelled to throw my two cents into the mix.

These days the most common answer I get to, “Why’d you pirate that?” isn’t, “It was free,” but, “It was the only way I could get my hands on it.” Or, “It was a bazillion times easier.” As Jeremy noted, users are correctly identifying Byzantine content delivery mechanisms as damage and routing around them.

Here’s what content conglomerates need to realize: This is a good thing. Fantastic even. The audience is telling you, in no uncertain terms, they want your stuff. And they are telling you precisely what stuff. The people you’re calling “thieves” are telling you where you need to be. They are jumping through hoops only slightly less complicated than the ones you set out for them via official channels, displaying the sort of pent-up demand that should make you drool. This is what’s commonly referred to in business circles as an opportunity.

The odd thing is that when you talk to many media executives about this they frequently concede these points. On an individual basis this reality is sinking in, but at a corporate level it hasn’t resulted in substantive change. So here are a few modest proposals for the media folks to help move the ball down the field a bit:

No One Cares About Your Infrastructure

Stop bending new products and delivery mechanisms to fit your existing internal infrastructure. No one cares how hard that might make things for you. They just want it to work. Start projects by picturing what the user wants to have in their hands and build up from that. No ifs, ands, or buts. No subverting new products to fit legacy systems and business deals. Those are the exceptions that keep killing your user experiences and sending customers flying out the door. Be unafraid to start from scratch. The budgets for this pale in comparison to the revenue that’s draining from your balance sheets.

“Silos” Are Dead

The idea that you can segregate customers into “silos” based on devices and forms of access—and charge them multiple times at different rates—is demonstrably antiquated. In the old days these segments were few and well distant of one another. You could reasonably expect to charge Peter one price and Paul another and get away with it, or even request an additional payment from either for delivering it to them in an additional format. This was partially based on a Prisoner’s Dilemma scenario which has evaporated. The customer knows their options far better than you do now. The media companies that clue into the reality that the future is about frictionless access—the customer getting what they want, when they want it, on every compatible device they own and at a reasonable consolidated price—will be the ones that rule the future.

Stop Flogging Bogus Piracy Numbers

The piracy statistics that were on full parade during the SOPA and PIPA dustups were constructed on shaky math and specious logic. Many in the industry know this full well because they’ve been seeing the exact same numbers and models trotted around for the last few decades without alteration. Stop thumping the table with these stats. It sets up a needlessly adversarial view of your best potential customers and distracts from the fact that piracy is an economic blip compared to the opportunities you’re missing out on.

Bonus Round

For extra credit I would add, “Relegate advertising to supplemental, not primary, revenue.” It may not seem directly relevant to the issue of content delivery, but advertising revenue is such a disproportionately large share of revenue at many media companies that it’s often allowed to induce products for its own purposes, resulting in rights restrictions that simply make no sense to the end user. (i.e., The ad deal comes first, and the content is invented post facto as a carrier wave for it. A user-hostile farce ensues as rules are concocted to assure the advertiser that your eyeballs will be glued to it.)