Showing all posts tagged media:

Companies Turning Down My Money

I’m always going on about my troubles with the Italian iTunes Store, but I realise people might not know what that means in practice, so I wrote up a real-world scenario.

I wonder what movie we could watch on Sunday night – maybe that 1969 classic, The Italian Job?1

First hurdle, finding the thing. Searching for "the italian job", as any reasonable (meaning "naive and inexperienced") person might, brings no results.

As this is not my first rodeo with the Italian iTunes Store, I fall back to searching for everything Michael Caine has been in – and sure enough, after the various Batman and Kingsman films, there is… Un colpo all’italiana. Sure, why not.

But once again, this is not my first rodeo – and therefore, instead of just hitting that "Buy" button, I know to scroll down and check one more thing:

Do you see it?

Look under Language: there is only one entry, "Italian (Stereo)". No English audio.

I refuse to pay ten Euros to hear Michael Caine dubbed into Italian, thank you very much. If you won’t sell things to people, they won’t buy them.

Guess we’re watching something else, kids.


  1. We will not speak of its 21st century would-be imitators, thank you. 

Shocking News: Water Wet

After extensive research, we can reveal the shocking result:

If you refuse to sell things to people, they won’t pay for them.

Vice versa, if you make things available to sell, many people will buy them.

The UK’s media regulator, OFCOM, have announced that streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon are now more popular than satellite and cable TV, as reported here: Piracy Audiences Are Untapped Pools of Wealth.

A Practical Example

The best recent example of this mechanism in action is with the excellent SF show The Expanse. This was originally on the US SYFY channel, but after three seasons, the show was due to be cancelled.

The cancellation decision by Syfy is said to be linked to the nature of its agreement for the series, which only gives the cable network first-run linear rights in the U.S. That puts an extraordinary amount of emphasis on live, linear viewing, which is inherently challenging for sci-fi/genre series that tend to draw the lion’s share of their audiences from digital/streaming.

Let’s emphasise that point: Syfy was reliant on live, linear viewing, and only in the US. Time-shift it, and it doesn’t count. Outside the US, and it doesn’t count. Downloaders definitely don’t count. Syfy were basically running a race in shackles, and they were only able to get as far as they did on the strength of some pretty outstanding content. As the novelty waned, though, this quality bonus stopped working quite as well.

Once the problem became clear, the logical next step was to ask the streaming services to step in, backed by a massive fan-led campaign to Save The Expanse. The lobbying was ultimately successful, with The Expanse coming to Amazon Prime.

Amazon is of course best placed to tap into that revenue stream from fans of both non-linear TV and The Expanse – not to mention international fans. Just because a show is only broadcast in the US doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a huge international fan base – so why not monetise those non-US viewers? Because they are viewing…

Out In The Provinces

One of the big reasons for non-US-residents to adopt streaming services is to get access to US TV shows, or get access more promptly. In the US, this mechanism may be less apparent, but anywhere outside that content market, it has always been a major annoyance that we get films and TV shows six months later, perhaps with egregious dubbing too – or maybe we don’t get them at all.

The same mechanism operates to a lesser degree elsewhere, as I have written before:

I get much of what the BBC broadcasts through my cable subscription one way or another, whether it’s through the BBC’s own channels, or on other networks like Discovery that license BBC content such as Top Gear. Sky then pays Discovery for that content - so far so good. The problem is that I get that content months late and often with annoying dubs or subtitles that can’t be removed - despite the Sky platform’s pretty good support for multiple audio and subtitle options on broadcast content.

This means that I end up ahem obtaining content through other channels so that I can watch it within a few days of the air date instead of much later, and with the English audio and no subtitles instead of both audio tracks at once, which happens far too often. I used to do this for Top Gear all the time, and recently I did it for Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. I would gladly have paid for both of these, but I could not find a way to do it. While JS&MN is now in the iTunes store, it’s only in the UK and US iTunes stores. I am restricted to the Italian iTunes store, because Apple in their wisdom force you to use the store in the same country as your credit card’s billing address.

The result? Instead of paying the BBC directly, or paying the BBC via Apple, I pirated the content - because that was not only free and very easy, it was literally the only way I could get it.

The only thing that has changed since I wrote that piece is that I no longer have cable TV. Instead, I have subscriptions to both Netflix and Amazon Prime, which cover almost all of my family’s requirements – except, still, for the BBC. I probably would cough up a reasonable amount for an iPlayer subscription, as there is a lot of quality content on there, but this is not even an option to me outside the UK.

Eventually these geographic restrictions must fall – but until then, people will find a way to get content, which means content producers and distributors are leaving money on the table. The first to embrace this new reality will see the greatest returns. The last? Nobody will hear about them any more.


Photo by Sven Scheuermeier on Unsplash

Signs of Hope

I was heartened to read that the EU, no less, is calling out Sky over their silly geographical restrictions:

The European Union’s top antitrust authority on Thursday charged six American studios and a pay television company in Britain with unfairly blocking access to films and other content.

Margrethe Vestager had one of the most intelligent comments I have ever heard from a politician:

European consumers want to watch the pay-TV channels of their choice regardless of where they live or travel in the E.U.

Standing ovation

Finally, someone gets it. Just because I live in Country A, doesn’t mean that I don’t want to watch content from Country B. I’d be happy to pay for the content, but if you make me jump through hoops of shipping devices to forwarding addresses, cracking DRM, and whatever else, guess what? I’m not going to pay!

On the other hand, give me an easy, legal way to get the content and pay for it, and we’ll both be much happier.

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There will be an interesting test case soon, as the BBC is getting ready to launch an online store, these types of geographic restriction are a problem.

The BBC is a special case because much of its content is (eventually) licensed worldwide. I get much of what the BBC broadcasts through my cable subscription one way or another, whether it’s through the BBC’s own channels, or on other networks like Discovery that license BBC content such as Top Gear. Sky then pays Discovery for that content - so far so good. The problem is that I get that content months late and often with annoying dubs or subtitles that can’t be removed - despite the Sky platform’s pretty good support for multiple audio and subtitle options on broadcast content.

This means that I end up *ahem*obtaining content through other channels so that I can watch it within a few days of the air date instead of much later, and with the English audio and no subtitles instead of both audio tracks at once, which happens far too often. I used to do this for Top Gear all the time, and recently I did it for Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. I would gladly have paid for both of these, but I could not find a way to do it. While JS&MN is now in the iTunes store, it’s only in the UK and US iTunes stores. I am restricted to the Italian iTunes store, because Apple in their wisdom force you to use the store in the same country as your credit card’s billing address.

The result? Instead of paying the BBC directly, or paying the BBC via Apple, I pirated the content - because that was not only free and very easy, it was literally the only way I could get it.

I was always amazed that nobody saw a problem - or rather, an opportunity - here, but it seems that the EU may finally sort this mess out.

About time, too. Top Gear is going to restart soon2.


Image by elizabeth lies via Unsplash


  1. Or to anyone savvy enough to run a VPN - but then again, it’s always possible to jump the fences… 

  2. Yes, I’m going to give Chris Evans a chance - but I’m also going to check out what the original trio get up to over on Amazon Prime. That is a whole other rant. 

Apparently, borders are still a thing

We live in a cosmopolitan world, in which crazes and fads can spread around the globe as fast as the bits can get through the pipes. You can make friends (or enemies) of people on the other side of the world, and speak to them more often and more meaningfully than people on the other side of the street. Every day we move closer to a world without borders.

Unless, that is, you are trying to buy or sell content.

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I have never watched the Godfather films (I know, I know), and with some intercontinental travel coming up, I thought this would be a good time to load them up on my iPad and finally catch up - forty years late, but who’s counting?

Since I no longer have any truck with physical media, my first stop was iTunes. At first I thought they did not have the films, but this turned out to be because I live in Italy, and so they are listed as Il Padrino. Fair enough, except that it’s not just the title card that’s Italian; the only soundtrack available is an Italian dub. It’s not even the original, it’s a re-dub, and the reviews are all one-stars complaining about the new dub.

Of course iTunes has all three Godfather films in the US store, but Apple in their wisdom tie your iTunes account to the country your credit card is registered in.1 This means I can’t simply download the English-language version from the US store.

We don’t get Netflix in Italy, because we have crazy regulations here in Europe, but there are any number of video-streaming services. Unfortunately, I want to watch the film offline, in an aeroplane, so they are no use to me.

Back when I still did physical media, what I would do is buy the DVD from Amazon - which, infuriatingly, was often cheaper than the download versions. DVDs all come with original-language soundtracks as well as whatever dub applies, so I’d just rip the DVD (thank you, DeCSS) and watch it that way. However, I no longer own a computer with a DVD drive, so that’s out.

I tried shopping around for other options, but ended up torrenting the blasted thing2, promising myself I will buy it once Apple actually deign to accept my money.3 This is a bit like my recent efforts to buy albums I used to own on (copied) cassettes. I’d rather you didn’t think of it as theft, more as deferred revenue.

Seriously, would it not be easier just to let me give you money? When piracy is not only free, but actually the quickest and easiest way to get the content, what is the point of walls? For every dollar you make by forcing someone to jump through your Ultraviolet hoops, you lose thousands to people who refuse to have anything to do with you - this time, or in future.

Well done.


UPDATE: In a nice coincidence, Facebook reminds me that region locks aren't just for movies by releasing their new app, Paper, for the US only. Because of course nobody outside the US wants it.

Let's break this down. It's not a volume issue, since most FB users are in the US. It's not a language issue, because plenty of people speak English outside the US.4 It's not a content issue, because the content is people's FB streams.

So: why?

Especially when it’s easy to jump the fence.


Image by Martin Wessely via Unsplash


  1. Yes, there are hacks, but by the time I realised this was an issue, it would have been too much hassle to switch accounts. 

  2. The irony is strong with this one.  

  3. Yes, I know it’s not just Apple here, it’s probably the studios’ fault at least as much as Apple’s for restricting the rights in the first place (hello, region-coding on DVDs!). 

  4. In fact we speak proper English. British English is not a dialect, dagnabbit. 

On Piracy

This is a post that has been festering for a while, but no matter how long I let it simmer, it refused to boil down to 140 chars so I could tweet it. The whole reason for this blog is to post thoughts which are too long for Twitter and too not-job-related and/or controversial for my work blog, so here goes.

I get the outrage about SOPA and ACTA and all their little friends. They are enormously big sticks to wave around, and the risk is that when all you have is a big stick, you use it every time, and end up squishing everything in the general vicinity of what you were aiming at.

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However.

I was talking to a colleague today, and while I don't know exactly what he makes, it's surely into low six figures (in Euros). We were discussing smart TVs and the relative merits of serving content via DLNA directly to the TV versus using something like an AppleTV. I was making the case for the latter, and his counter-argument was that all the films he downloads can be read directly by his TV as soon as the download completes, while most would require transcoding to work with the AppleTV. I was a bit non-plussed and probed deeper, only to discover that this colleague downloads several movies per week completely illegally.

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Now, I'm the first to complain about the ridiculous anti-piracy warnings on DVDs, the region coding, the unskippable trailers and ads, and so on - on content I already paid for, let’s not forget. However, my answer is to rip the DVD first thing and watch it via the AppleTV. The actual disc gets played once or twice to get the special content, and then it goes on the shelf as back-up or to be loaned out to friends.

This seems to me the honest approach, and I'm not saying that (just) because I make my living off for-pay software.

I do the same sort of thing with audio CDs, but there it's pure self-interest. Let's take an example from my wish list. The CD of "Bloody Kisses" by Type O Negative is currently GBP3.99, versus GBP6.99 for the MP3 download of the album. Plus this way I get a backup copy, the cover art and liner notes, and it adds to the wall of CDs which share responsibility with books for hiding the walls in my house. MP3s and e-books aren't good for furnishing.

When I mentioned this approach to my colleague he, and others in the room, called me a chump. Why would I spend money on something I can get so easily for free?

Er, because it's stealing
?

If this is the attitude among people who cannot make even a pretence of not being able to afford the content, it makes me sympathize with the MPAA and their ilk. If I were suddenly to sprout musical ability, get signed and release an album, I would expect to be paid for it, and consider people downloading it to be stealing food from my table.

We can have the argument about the percentage of profits that goes to record companies as opposed to artists another time.

Also the argument about the value-for-money of most mainstream artists.

Also about obsolete business models - buggy-whips and gas lanterns.

The point remains: these works were created for pay, they were put on sale for money, and yet large swathes of the population, even among people affluent enough to be easily able to pay, consider it perfectly acceptable and unexceptional to pay nothing.

If we as a society are OK with this, we should not be surprised that the owners of that content get a bit hysterical and take a "shoot first, ask questions later" attitude, even when the questions are quite reasonable ones from people who would love to pay for content if only it were re-released. Or available in their region. Or available in a convenient format. Or not encumbered with restrictions on personal and other fair use.

The time to argue about right-to-roam is not when the game-keeper catches you with a haunch of venison in one hand and a leg of swan in the other.