Hollywood needs to wake up and smell the Popcorn

I don’t support pirating films.

It has nothing to do with the fact that I’m a professional visual effects artist, and by doing so it could be hurting my field. It has nothing to do with the fear of having cops knock on my door and seizing my computer. I simply believe that content should be paid for, and those hard working men and women who rely on royalty checks to maintain an income should be paid for their efforts. I’m not talking about the Executive Producers, or the high profile Directors. I’m talking about the middle class workers, of which there are a few, who are hurt by the loss of sales through piracy.

Which is why I’m completely surprised when I say I’m fully supporting Popcorn Time.

In case you’re not familiar with Popcorn Time, it’s an illegal streaming program, much like Netflix, that scours through torrents and streams movies to your computer. If the movie is out there as a torrent, then it’s probably on Popcorn Time. If it’s a new blu-ray release, and Netflix doesn’t have it, then Popcorn Time sure as hell will have it. And it’s not just in English, but in any language it can find. Another key feature, especially for those of us living outside of the US, it is NOT region locked. So while some movies might not be available in certain Netflix regions, Popcorn Time has every movie available around the world for FREE.

No wonder Hollywood is scared.

And I’m glad. This is the type of thing that is needed to push the online streaming service to the next level we’ve been desperately waiting for.

When Napster first came onto the scene back in the late 90’s, it threw the music industry upside down overnight. The Music industry was in peril at the growing financial loss due to the incredible ease of illegally downloading music. Then Apple stepped in and saved the day by convincing the major players that they needed to do something now, or die. They did, and the music industry was saved thanks to the incredibly easy system of the iPod and the iTunes store. Others, such as Amazon and Google, followed along with a similar system. All provided an easy means to purchase music that can be transferred and used on multiple devices.

Remember Napster?
Remember Napster?

Movies on the other hand seem to be having a different type of problem with their digital counterparts. The most popular method of consuming movies online is via streaming services such as Netflix. While Netflix is an incredible service at a low price, it lacks newer movies. For that you’ll still need to either rent or purchase movies. Let’s leave the physical media behind for the purpose of this article and focus on digital, shall we. Renting movies through Amazon or your Playstation is similar to the old type of Pay-Per-View methods from cable television. You pay money, the movie streams, and there it is. Once your time period is up (usually 48 hours), that’s it, the movie is gone. And much like the day of video stores, if you loved a movie enough you would take the next step and purchase it so you could watch it anytime you wanted. But now we’re talking about purchasing digital movies, which is the fatal rub in my honest opinion.

I can purchase music from Amazon, or Google, or iTunes, and I know that I can use it ANYWHERE, on any device. Digital movies are limited to the ecosystem you purchase it in. Playstation movies will only work on Sony devices. iTunes movies will only run on Apple devices. Amazon seems like the best option because it seems to be the most platform agnostic of the bunch. But I shouldn’t have to worry about this. If I purchase a movie I should be able to play it anywhere, on any device. It’s my movie! This is the main reason I still purchase blu-rays. I can play it on any blu-ray player or computer with a blu-ray drive. I could even take the time to rip it and put it on any device I want. It’s mine.

This disconnected ecosystem of movie libraries is annoying to say the absolute least. But that’s what happening. Each system is trying to earn their piece of the pie with their proprietary system, coding, and content. It’s forcing us as consumers to have to choose which store to buy our movies from. Because once you start a movie collection on one system, you’ll do everything in your power to keep most of your movies in that system. Renting seems to be more cross platform but it seems that after a month or so the option to rent a newly released movie disappears leaving you with purchasing it as your only option. So does that mean it went to Netflix? Nope. Not yet. Tough shit. You missed your chance. Well maybe that OTHER online streaming service will still have it. Redbox? YouTube? Google? Apple? Sony? Someone should still have it to rent online. You just have to scour the different services for it and see which one has the current deal with the studio to rent it.

Now how is that convenience in a digital world? It’s not. Despite the notion of passing information through bits and data, movies are still passed along through deals and exclusivities that almost seem more backwards and annoying than when we had to drive to the video store to get our movies.

Optical Discs still offer us the best options as far as compatibility and ownership.
Optical Discs still offer us the best options as far as compatibility and ownership.

They won’t unite into one system that benefits us without something big shaking things up. If there was catastrophic event that forced all the studios together to unite into one system, similar to how Apple did it with music, then perhaps we could get rid of these different formats and focus on one format across all platforms. Perhaps we could see recent movies that just came out on blu-ray also come out on Netflix. Perhaps, the studios could see that the only way to fight piracy is to just give us what we want. Movies that we can watch when we want on which ever system we want.

That’s why I love Popcorn Time. I gave it a go and within minutes I was streaming the latest Keanu Reeves movie, 47 Ronin. The damned thing worked, albeit the movie did skip a little bit, but I think that was due to the file itself being so large since it was not optimized to being streamed. But the point is, I was getting a brand spanking new movie right here, right now.

(For the record I only watched about a minute, then deleted Popcorn Time from my system.)

And it was easy to do. Very easy. Napster was devastating to the music industry because of its simplicity. Torrents is an issue for the film industry but it’s not easy enough for your average, casual computer user to get into. Netflix on the other hand IS easy, so almost anyone can pick it up and start watching movies. Popcorn Time is just as easy as Netflix. And if it’s easy enough for my mother use, then Hollywood has a problem on it’s hand.

And this is the problem that I hope forces them to all come to the table for a unified solution. I happily pay for Netflix every month (as well as a monthly VPN service that allows me to access the US library from England), but I understand that licensing these movies cost money. So if Netflix had to pass on the cost of these movies to us, maybe as a premium Netflix account then I would gladly pay more to have access to newer movies. How much more? Before Popcorn Time I would have said 15 bucks a months. After taking a look at what I had access to I could probably go as high as $25 a month. Or perhaps with each monthly payment you are given 3 or 4 vouchers to watch a “new” movie that hasn’t entered the normal Netflix library. Once the vouchers are used up for the month you can buy more ala carte, or wait until next month. I don’t know. But I know a there are ways to entice us to pay for this content so we can watch them legally.


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