Piracy Is Surging Again Because Streaming Execs Ignored The Lessons Of The Past


from the doomed-to-repeat dept

Back in 2019 we noted how the streaming sector risked driving consumers back to piracy if they didn’t heed the lessons of the past. We explored how the rush to raise rates, nickel-and-dime users, implement arbitrary restrictions, and force users toward hunting and pecking their way through a confusing platter of exclusives and availability windows risked driving befuddled users back to piracy.

And lo and behold, that’s exactly what’s happening.

After several decades of kicking and screaming, studio and music execs somewhere around 2010 finally realized they needed to offer users affordable access to easy-to-use online content resources. They finally realized they needed to compete with piracy and focus on consumer satisfaction whether they liked the concept or not. And unsurprisingly, once they learned that lesson piracy began to dramatically decrease.

That was until 2021, when piracy rates began to climb slowly upward again in the U.S. and EU. As the Daily Beast notes, users have grown increasingly frustrated at having to hunt and peck through a universe of different, often terrible streaming services just to find a single film or television program.

As every last broadcaster, cable company, broadband provider, and tech company got into streaming they began to lock down “must watch” content behind an ever-shifting number of exclusivity silos, across an ocean of sometimes substandard “me too” services. Initially competition worked, but as the market saturated and the most powerful companies started to silo content, those benefits have been muted.

Now users have to hunt and peck between Disney+, Netflix, Starz, Max, Apple+, Acorn, Paramount+, Hulu, Peacock, Amazon Prime, and countless other services in the hopes that a service has the rights to a particular film or program. When you already pay for five different services, you’re not keen to sign up to fucking Starz just to watch a single 90s film. And availability is constantly shifting, confusing things further.

We warned that was going to be a problem back in 2019, and it’s happening exactly as predicted, creating widespread consumer confusion and a growing desire for simplicity:

“The streaming industry has to converge towards a system where consumers can watch pretty much everything they like for an affordable price,” JP editor Ernesto Van der Sar said. “That sounds straightforward, but in an industry that’s built around licensing silos with billions in revenue at stake, that’s easier said than done.”

The Daily Beast article focuses heavily on the annoyance of international licensing restrictions, and fails to meaningfully address the numerous other reasons piracy is on the rise again.

Mindless megamergers have made many streaming services shittier, more expensive, and harder to use (Max is the poster child for this phenomenon). In a bid to please Wall Street, streaming giants have shifted away from trying to make users happy, and toward obnoxious nickel-and-diming efforts, whether it’s Netflix’s password sharing crackdown or Amazon’s decision to charge users paying $140 a year even more money every month just to avoid ads that didn’t exist previously.

As every corporation does eventually, they’ve shifted from innovative, consumer-friendly efforts to lure in new users, to obnoxious turf protection efforts focused on steadily exploiting existing users.

The underlying problem, as usual, is Wall Street’s unyielding, often myopic desire for improved quarterly returns at any cost. It’s not enough to provide a high quality, profitable service that people like. The need for improved quarterly returns ultimately results in companies cannibalizing their own products and brands in order to appease this need for relentless growth. Even if it harms longer term company health.

The end result is higher prices, layoffs, shittier product quality, worse customer service, weird restrictions, and no limit of new annoyances. It also contributes to an unyielding desire among executives for mindless consolidation in a bid to hack this broken system, nab some tax breaks, and create the illusion of meaningful “synergistic” growth and progress (again, see Max).

Cory Doctorow’s recently popularized term for this age-old phenomenon is “enshittification,” and it’s everywhere you look.

It’s possible to disrupt this downward cycle but it involves doing all the sorts of things large corporations don’t want to do, like reducing insane executive compensation, accepting antitrust reform, prioritizing customer service, paying creatives, not wasting your money on dumb shit like Netflix-themed restaurants, and (gasp) taking a small financial hit in order to retain users and maintain product quality.

So there’s very little indication any of these problems are going to slow down. Consumers are going to be forced to pay higher and higher rates for increasingly deteriorating services, to the point where piracy is going to become an increasingly alluring value proposition. And when that happens, you can be absolutely, indisputably assured that executives will blame absolutely everything but themselves.

Filed Under: antitrust, bittorrent, cable tv, enshittification, films, movies, piracy, streaming, video

Las Vegas News Magazine

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