"If you build it…"

June 16, 2009 § Leave a comment

Those who know me or have read some of my stuff are probably aware that I have a great deal to say on the piracy debate, digital distribution and legalised downloading.

Recently, Virgin have struck a deal with Universal which will see a subscription based music download service available through their ISP. For a monthly fee, maybe “comparable to the cost of a couple of albums a month”, users will have unlimited access to Universal’s library of talent and – here’s the sweet, gooey, tasty part – you get to keep what you download, even long after you’ve cancelled your subscription. As a part of this deal, Virgin are also temporarily suspending the ISP accounts of those who persistently engage in copywrite theft. Interestingly, the article indicates that it will only be those who share music that will be target, suggesting a kind of favouritism – will artists under the EMI band have this same protection from Virgin?

While I think this is definitely a step in the right direction, I get the impression that through this deal you will only have access to artists under the Universal label. Hypothetically, if this became the norm between record labels, then you might be forced to sign up to at least two or three subscriptions to get access to most of what was on offer. In other words, it might end up being prohibitively expensive. Still, it’s difficult to guess what other companies might do and in the mean time I think this is some very good news. Finally, instead of punishing the consumer with legal action, we’re finally seeing companies behaving like they get it. Offer the carrot instead of the stick; offer the customer a better value product or a better service and they will follow.

LOVEFiLM have also recently started to roll-out their new Watch Online service, which allows you to stream movies either as a part of your subscription package or for a small one-off payment. The range of films on this service (as part of my subscription, anyway)  are pretty poor, in general – the only exception being Chopper, a fantastic film with a phenomenal central performance from Eric Bana.

On LOVEFiLM’s pay-per-view, the price for the films I’ve looked at seems to be at £2.49 for 48 hours. That’s actually pretty good, but, personally, I’d like it a little less at £1.99. Regardless, it’s still a good deal. It is a shame, though, that they’re not offering HD versions of these things; maybe it’ll be something they will bring out in the future. There were also quite a few moments while I was using the service that the stream broke and I was unable to reconnect for a few minutes. It’s still a beta, so I understand there will be teething problems. However, when they start calling it the final product then I will expect them to have sorted these technical issues out.

It’s about choice and it’s about value. Instead of bullying the customer, companies need to look at what’s being made available elsewhere – legally or otherwise – and say to themselves, “What can we do to compete? How can we take it one step further?”

Because, if you build it, they will come. And they will come in droves, I assure you.

(Also, for those interested, the film I was watching on the Watch Online service was Hurlyburly, and it was pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty crap. I penned a very short off-the-cuff review for the LOVEFiLM user review section but I’ve also decided to list it here, as well, minus the typos. I enjoyed writing this one.)

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Be better than free, proclaims David Perry — legendary game developer, prolific bullshitter

May 12, 2009 § Leave a comment

This was picked up by a handful of sites I regularly visit, including Edge and Joystiq. It’s basically a redirect to a blog post made by Perry, which outlines some of his impressions over the fairly recent Pirate Bay judgment. He says some other stuff, but this is what sticks out, to me:

The REAL way to beat piracy is to focus on “convenience”, “quality”, “access”. I once heard a speech about the “right price” for music. That’s a price where you’d rather pay for the quality, proper meta-tags, “The Real Thing” etc. That’s nearly what iTunes offers, but it’s too expensive (as the speaker said after his analysis), and so the first company to actually work out that “not worth piracy” price, will suddenly make piracy “inconvenient”. You don’t have to agree, but it’s an interesting idea.

Like David Jaffe – another ‘Dave’ – David Perry is not afraid of saying whatever comes into his head at any given time, often making him look a bit of a jackass. The amount of rubbish this guy comes out with… You really just can’t take much of what he says seriously anymore. It’s why I was so surprised when I read this, as it is probably single-most important thing I’ve heard regarding the problem of piracy and how it should be dealt.

Now, there will always be some people who will try and get stuff for free, no matter what. However, there is another element to piracy, and that is that it frequently it offers the consumer a service which doesn’t exist under legal means. Mark Kermode talks about this in his film vblog, and the same applies with video games. But I can think of another example, specific to video games. There is a lot of talk about piracy on the PSP — the use of emulators to play ROMs of old 16-bit classics, PlayStation games etc. Instead of companies asking the question “What can we do to stop this?” maybe they should be asking themselves “How do we get in on this?” instead? There is obviously a demand for these games and it is because companies have failed to fill this gap that pirates have swooped in. Frequently, it’s not a case of people wanting to screw record companies, or games developers or publishers, but to have a product, have it NOW and in this or that format. It’s the companies’ failure for not providing this service, and if they were smart they would realise how much money is there and step up a bit.

And Perry’s comment about this kind of future-offering not being too expensive is also, absolutely, on-the-money. For example, if we look at what Sega’s served up with the release of some classic Mega Drive games on XBLA, we have Sonic 1 and 2, and Streets of Rage 2, all being offered individually for 400 MSP or £3.40. Consider that you can buy a retail packaged version of all of those games, plus 37 more, on the Xbox 360 for around £20 (making it around 50p per game), individually pricing games as high as £3.40 is absurd. Gunstar Heroes is coming out soon on XBLA, and I love that game to death, but I’m not going to pay that amount of money for it.

But this theory doesn’t just apply to film and video games; it applies to television, too. Why do people download their favourite television series instead of waiting for the box-set to come out or paying for an expensive Sky package? The answer’s in the question. Some people don’t want 100 channels of crap. They just want that TV show, they want it now and they want it cheap. While there are some people are will watch a TV show over again after a first viewing, I, myself, find that after having seen an episode of Lost or House, rarely have the inclination to revisit it. Why isn’t there a online digital rental service for the most popular TV shows, one which allows you to suscribe to a season or rent out individual episodes for a cheaper cost than buying them?

Currently, iTunes offers a full episode of The Wire for purchase at £1.89; why not offer a cheaper service which gives people access to the latest episode of their favourite TV show for the price of something around 99p, but with the caveat of only being able to watch it once or within a time limit before the episode can no longer be viewed? If such a service exists, I don’t know of it. And either that means that a) such a service doesn’t exist; or b) they haven’t marketed it well enough. Both are the problem of an industry and of businesses which, time-and-again, fail to keep up with the demands of the consumer.

So, I suppose this is my final message: stop punishing the consumer for your company’s failure to fill a gap in the market; stop your whining, and start doing something about it!

(823 words.)

Television Recommendations — 02/04/09

April 2, 2009 § 2 Comments

Two recommendations today: ‘The Wire‘ and ‘Charlie Brooker’s Newswipe‘.

UK residents are in for a treat lately with two excellent pieces of television; unfortunately, both are on quite late. The BBC seems to think people will bother to catch The Wire at 11:20pm on a weekday, and that’s their call. If I were a working man – which I’m not at the moment, but if I were – I doubt I’d stay up to watch it. Adding insult to injury, it seems that they haven’t got the digital broadcast rights for the programme, so you can’t catch it on iPlayer either. Well done, the BBC, you’ve just gone and shot yourself in the foot again. At first, I was pretty excited to hear that The Wire would be coming to UK television screens, but I’m not going to watch it like this. Luckily, if you know where to look, the internet can provide every episode of the critically-acclaimed series for free and whenever it’s convenient for you.

Charlie Brooker’s Newswipe is on at a better time (10:30pm every Wednesday) and, fortunately, you can catch up with episodes on iPlayer. It’s also on BBC4, so I don’t know how much advertising coverage it’s getting – but probably not a lot. So here I am, pimping it out. It’s funny that the one word that comes to mind when thinking of Charlie Brooker is ‘genius’ – and he’d probably give me a clip round the ear and humorously berate me for saying that. Charlie Brooker isn’t a genius, but he is a very smart and funny guy.

He has around half an hour in his programme, and he dedicates it solely to satirically mocking and analysing the British media. The show surprises me every time by just how good it is at both informing and entertaining. For a start, it’s amazing just how much he covers within that 30 minutes of screen time; there is almost no fluff or padding in the programme (apart from the poetry reading in episode one, which was kind of shit). Added to that, is that everything he says or remarks upon is so absolutely correct – almost all the time. He is consistently spot-on on a regular basis, and he communicates so well to the audience, not with pretension or with condescension, but simply by talking clearly and with common sense. And then there’s his sense of humour, which is a mix between piss and fart jokes and sarcasm — but it’s funny sarcasm. The man, quite simply, is a brilliant satirist.

So, this is good news for people who still watch television. For everybody else with a good internet connection, it won’t really register a blip. Since almost all terrestrial channels have catch-ups through their respective online services, and since most popular television series are readily available via torrents and streaming websites, this blog update is almost obsolete — because, why watch television nowadays when you can download programmes quickly, for free, at decent quality, with no adverts, at your convenience and, sometimes, only a day after they’re first aired on American channels?

Television is becoming obsolete, if it isn’t already so. And the television licencing in this country really needs revamping because, frankly, the system they’ve got going is archaic, and it doesn’t really account properly for those downloading programmes using the internet. This is from the TV licencing website:

You must be covered by a valid TV Licence if you watch or record television programmes as they’re being shown on TV. It makes no difference what equipment you use – whether it’s a laptop, PC, mobile phone, digital box, DVD recorder or a TV set – you still need a licence.

You do not need a TV Licence to view video clips on the internet, as long as what you are viewing is not being shown on TV at the same time as you are viewing it [emphasis added].

Basically, this means I can watch any programme I want, which has been shown on British television, as long as I’m not watching it as it’s being broadcast. This means that you can watch everything on iPlayer (or 4oD) if it’s after the programme has been originally aired.

It’s not that I want to be charged money to watch iPlayer or 4oD or whatever, but, in theory, I can watch almost all of the programmes the BBC aires without contributing tax-wise. And, hey! It’s a great deal for me, but it doesn’t make it very fair now, does it?

Anyway, I’ve kind of gone and hijacked my own train of thought here. I’ll just finish up by saying that The Wire and Newswipe are fantastic programmes, and they deserved to be watched (on whatever equipment you watch television on).

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