Monday, May 01, 2006

Licensed Torrent Model the Way to Go

An idle thought about selling video and music content online.
To optimize customer choice and satisfaction, companies ought to specialize in selling either data delivery service, or content delivered through the service.
I pay Adelphia for cable TV. I have DVR software and a machine to run it. I have a home network. I have a high-speed Internet connection.
If I want to watch a pre-existing episode of South Park, I can tell my DVR to record it the next time it comes around, and then watch it either on the TV connected to the DVR PC, or on my PC's monitor. That's legal.
Alternatively, I can illegally use a free BitTorrent client to download the same episode. I can't quite download it at real-time speed yet, so I'd have to get the file first. So it would take maybe an hour or so. For a new episode, I might have to wait an hour or a day for someone to put the file out into the torrentsphere.
Doing any of this would be piracy, pure and simple.
It wouldn't feel much like piracy, emotionally. I'm paying somebody for a mechanism that allows me to watch their show; whadda they care how I get my hands on the goods? But of course it does matter to the content producers, who get unhappy.
The difficulty with their unhappiness comes from the difficulty of fighting digital piracy. Information wants to be free; its legitimate and rightful owners are having, and will continue to have, trouble keeping it owned.
IF content companies want to get their product out into the marketplace and still own it, I suggest a compromise. Issue subscriptions and provide legal torrents to subscribers on a regularly scheduled basis. Make the torrents of decent quality, and ad-free other than (say) a one-minute promo at the beginning of the file. The torrentsphere will absorb such legitimate services and genuine emotional pirates will continue to steal the goods, but people who understand and believe that you have to pay the piper if you want to hear a tune will still subscribe - and the nature of torrenting is that even pirates contribute to the network effect and make the user experience better and better.
In essence, such a scheme would cut companies like Adelphia out of the loop when it comes to content for a large and increasing base of technologically gifted viewers. If I can get my ad-free South Park directly from Matt and Trey (or even from Comedy Central), and pay 'em 50 cents a month, I'll be glad to do so. I have to think that with - say - a million viewers willing to make this deal, a direct, continuing revenue stream of $500,000 a month is worth something - particularly since the deal would be non-exclusive, and they could continue selling their product via content distribution companies for anybody who wants to buy it that way.
(If any of my legions of idle wealthy techie readers feels like being the guy who gets really rich off this idea by pumping me with funding to acquire content and make distribution deals, you know where to send the check.)

No comments: