Saturday, April 27, 2013

Piracy has to be curbed by easier access to content! And not policing.


The story goes that Steve Jobs wanted CD drive slots on iMacs instead of the tacky trays. But soon Apple was forced to add tray drives as CD writers were not available in slots. An unhappy Steve Jobs wanted to know why a CD writer was so important for iMac, a consumer device. He got to know people were ripping Music album CDs to distribute/share/own select individual songs. This also lead to mass piracy in the Music industry and they were bleeding. Jobs then went on to convince the industry big wigs that customers should have the ability to own individual tracks and not always albums. He also provided a platform called iTunes Store where the labels could officially sell individual audio tracks for economical rates for the users. Customers would browse or search through a huge archive of good quality MP3 songs on iTunes store, buy and manage their playlist and sync to their iPods. This experience was obviously way better than the effort anyone went through to find people who bought the CDs, ripped and shared on the internet, with the right quality and also without the risk of getting virus. People didn't mind paying for this great experience. This also lead to similar services in the US which revived the music and movie industry.

Indian film industry is going through the same problem right now. Technology advancement, broadband and mobile penetration have made piracy flourish. And whats the industry doing about it other than crying and being offensive? Have they really thought about the crux of the problem? Are people really happy about buying bad quality pirated DVDs or downloading movies on Torrent? But what alternative do they have? Coming to cinema halls? Do they really think its practical and economical for everyone to watch all movies in cinemas?

OK I cant talk for everyone but I'll talk about what I think here. I really dont like encouraging piracy but I also dont want to go to cinema halls every week. That means I'll be really choosy about the movies I watch in cinemas and would mostly opt for a big happy movie with super stars etc running that weekend. I really wanted to watch movies like Jolly LLB and Da Thadiya but I missed them as I didnt want to go through the effort of going to the cinema, finding some company and spending big money. Also Malayalam movies are shown on unholy show hours and they disappear after the first week in cities outside Kerala. I really wanted to encourage these movie makers but I dint have an option. Yes I can wait for months till the DVD comes out but by then the fizz is gone and I can rather wait for it to come on TV. Also I dont want to buy DVDs and then figure out storage space for them. I'm not saying Cinema halls are unnecessary. There is indeed a need for them as the main outdoor entertainment medium other than malls in India. But there has to be parallel medium in Home entertainment. These movies should come out on DVDs and Internet as early as possible which will help customer get access to the movies easier and they will definitely wont mind paying little more than the amount they pay for bad quality pirated DVDs. This will definitely curb piracy.

I'm surprised that the Indian movie industry has still not woken up to this fact. They rather do policing and we all know what policing can actually help achieve. One regular answer I get from everyone is its not easy. Well nothing is easy in life. Even for Steve Jobs it was not easy. He had to go from label to label to talk to the executives and convince them to do it. Someone has to take a step towards it. The new generation movie makers should do something about it if they want to sustain. I know Apple and Google have started their movie stores in India but looks like they are not serious about it. Ek Tha Tiger and English Vinglish are the latest movies available out there.

My friend Sreejith Nair has taken a bold step towards this by starting up CinemaTalkies.com, a Hulu like on demand online streaming service for Malayalam movies. However the movies there work only outside India and it doesn't have the hot from the oven new movies. I talked to Sreejith about this and he said his vision is to have simultaneous releases and make them available even in India but he had to make a start somewhere. Offering good quality streaming service for NRIs itself was a great achievement. I really hope the producers realize the potential and satisfy movie fans like me who live outside Kerala. And if this works out, I'm sure movie producers all over India will take notice. Its hight time now.
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