How to Survive Among Pirates

Kevin Kelly has a wonderfully detailed and intriguing post on The Technium where he examines how legitimate film product co-exists with illegal duplicates in China, Nigeria and India, countries known at least in the West for rampant, commercial piracy.

He confirms that the rate of their piracy of Western films is indeed quite high but not so much for locally produced fare. He deftly teases apart why this is so. One reason is that the theater going experience in some of these countries offers something cheap rip offs do not: air conditioning. There is a parallel, to be sure, with the experiments with 3D film in the West. The release of 3D television and the wickedly greedy ticket prices (I just spent nearly forty dollars for two kids and myself this past weekend–for a matinee) may cut any such benefit short for 3D films in the theater whereas it will be some time before mean income raises to a point where air conditioning will become wide spread in Nigeria and India. The detailed comparison only goes so far but proves a contention many have made, concentrate on what is genuinely scarce rather than trying to restrict digital copies.

He draws some sound conclusions around that theater experience, as well as the inevitable price pressure and the growing need to leverage all after market opportunities to realize a film’s full value. As poorly as Hollywood is handling the theater experience, really only encouraging the market for high end home theater gear, I am not terrifically optimistic that they will concede to price pressure or further embrace smaller markets, like web and direct to DVD, beyond what they’ve already conceded in terms of lower quality fare.

I love this article for how it acts as a crystal ball onto a possible future. These countries’ present may lie ten or twenty years in Hollywood’s future. A common, tying thread between here and there, now and then is how the same kinds of piracy are reflected back on these “pirate nations” for exports of their domestic films. China, India and Nigeria demonstrate that such a future is not as universally bad as big content makes it out, that because of the uneven distribution of piracy, there may be hope albeit on a severely reduced scale.

It is easy to imagine Hollywood experiencing a collapse despite its best efforts that puts it in a similar circumstance as these countries. Should that come to pass, there is reason to hope that cultural production won’t cease. I am also very curious whether the loss of so much money in the entertainment market might act as a forcing function to squeeze out all but the most compelling content, stories and characters, ones that can thrive without ridiculously expensive actors, locations and special effects.

I strongly encourage you to read the entirety of Kelly’s post for yourself. It is worth it for his wonderful narrative as much as the lessons I have tried to draw out a little bit here.

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