The battle raging between the big Hollywood film studios and the giant of Silicon Valley is probably the most pointless and futile conflict being raged in media today. The issue of illegal downloading of film, music and TV is a real problem that does indeed cost millions each year but the way forward is not through endless lawsuits against the likes of Sheffield student Richard O'Dwyer.
Hollywood's reluctance to embrace the Internet as a new platform with which to showcase its product has meant illegal downloading and streaming has become the norm. The fact remains unless you provide an alternative that is simple and easy to use, you will never be able to curb the spread of illegal downloading. Even if they target the likes of TV Shack and Megaupload, alternative sites will simply spring up in their place. The genie is out the bottle and has been since the spread of broadband Internet made the process of downloading large files quick and easy.
The potential of legal downloading and streaming can be seen very clearly with the way the music business has begun to adapt. iTunes and Spotify are two very successful online platforms that have provided a high quality alternative to illegal downloading. Yes, Spotify has had an awkward beginning but the signs are that many people, including myself, are signing up to their subscription service as it is a cheap, easy to use, high quality product, that is easier and simpler than going through the hassle of illegal downloading or streaming.
The key for the film industry is implement an online service that has the same level of simplicity and ease of use. Yes, there are services such as Lovefilm and Netflix, but their potential is limited by the size of their catalogue and crucially the gap between cinema release and the release on DVD.
In order to be a truly compelling alternative the service must offer films at the same time as their cinema release. Obviously this proposal would face stiff resistance from many elements in the film industry and from the cinema giants but the argument that people would simply stop going to the cinema is completely baseless. The cinema is a social occasion; people go there for more than just the enjoyment of watching a film, plus the lure of a giant screen and true surround sound will never be fully replicated in the home.
Good quality air-conditioned cinemas with comfortable seats will always attract enough people to make money. The film industry cannot simply rely on the allure of 3D to attract people to the cinema. There will always be a market for good-quality cinemas showing films people want to go and see on a night out.
People will always go out to the cinema as it is part of a wider social experience, the same way people still go out to pubs and clubs even though you can buy alcohol much cheaper in a supermarket and drink it at home.
Once this argument has been won, the next step is make a decision as to what platform the service will be available on, and the obvious answer to that is Google. The sheer universality and global awareness Google has makes it the ideal way for the film industry to sell its products online. Consumers would have a Google account, which would allow them to purchase a film, whether through streaming or download, with one simple search. The majority of the money would go to the film companies but the potential market is so huge that the profits would be eye watering.
Even though many senior executives within the film studios show a visceral hatred towards Google, they need to wake up and accept the inevitable. Consumers want to view content on a multitude of platforms and they will continue to do so whether it's legal or not, no matter how many students they sue. Better they provide a quick and easy legal alternative that will over time significantly cut illegal downloading and generate a tidy profit.
You can't turn the clock back, the days of people just being able to view content through tightly controlled mediums is long gone and will never return unless they implement Chinese-style restrictions on access to the Internet. This may be possible in a totalitarian state, but no free democratic electorate will put up with that level of restriction on their lives. It would be a clear vote looser and would face a huge campaign against it like the 'Stop Online Piracy Act' and the 'Protect IP Act' faced in the United States Congress.
Together Google and Hollywood have the potential to provide a product the world is crying out for and is so clearly inevitable that the mind boggles that it hasn't already been implemented. Ego's and lawsuits need to be put to one side for the good of the long term health of the film industry. By joining forces they can tap into a vast market and make millions, apart everyone suffers including the consumer.
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