Media companies don’t get it: Open market = sales


opinion Have you tried to buy downloadable content lately? Or tried to stream music/movies lately?

In the US, this is such an easy process, with numerous music and movie services offering numerous methods to buy and consume media: Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and iTunes, to name a few.

Yet in Australia, the process of trying to get people to sell you content is a frustrating one that makes piracy the safest and easiest way to get content.

Case in point #1: has for a long time offered non-DRM music and audio books on subscription. Remembering that I had a audio book subscription active, I recently went to to download a book (which I have not done in a while).

The dreaded ‘Not eligible in your country’ message appeared. Great. They still took money away from my account for the subscription on the 5th of March, however. The other music and on-demand service of note, Amazon, will not sell digital content to Australians, but will gleefully send DVDs and CDs over the Pacific.

Case in point #2: I am a fan of the Animated DC Universe. I downloaded Green Lantern — First Flight and Wonder Woman from iTunes, but the latter movies Batman/Superman : Public Enemies and Justice League — Crisis on Two Earths are not available on iTunes. A scan of other movie streaming services like Bigpond Movies failed to find another download source.

Case in Point #3: During the Leno/O’Brian war, I looked at the ‘Late Night’ comedy shows on Youtube. Some of the best stuff is coming from people who will never appear on Australian TV (like Craig Fergusson) or only on premium cable TV (Jimmy Kimmel), yet the Jimmy Kimmel stuff is region-blocked on Youtube.

Case in point #4: I am a fan of iView from the ABC (especially since it does not count for my download cap, nice one iiNet!). Yet there is no equivalent of where an archive of current and older content is available for streaming on demand.

Now, the last time I checked, Australia was fully compliant with all international intellectual property treaties and agreements (and has been relatively quiet on the insanely bad ACTFA treaty negotiations compared with those hotbeds of IP theft New Zealand, Europe and Canada). I am willing to give money to companies to consume their content, so why are they actively preventing me giving them my money? What risk is there to sell digital media on stuff that no network (cable and freeview) are willing to show?

The running gag on the interwebs is that Aussies are the best BitTorrent downloaders in the world. When will companies realise that there are people willing to pay for content, and that piracy is a market correction to supply an obvious demand?

The current state of affairs is a market failure in the classic economic model, and the attempts by AFACT and other copyright agencies to stem “illegal downloads” is doomed to failure unless a viable, affordable and simple method of selling digital content is found. At the moment, the only functional market is iTunes (although I do like, but they only handle music at the moment). If this was a brick and mortar marketplace, ACCC would be hitting it hard to prevent a monoploly. Yet the media companies get a free pass in the digital world.

Does Australia deserve to be in the cultural backwater because we are not worth the effort to market to?

Darryl Adams is a government worker and internet tragic. A former IT worker, he still pines for the days of IBM keyboards that go CRUNCH and the glow of green screens. He can be found on on Twitter or on Facebook. The views expressed here do not reflect the views of his employer, the ATO.

Image credit: Warner Bros Television


  1. I couldn’t agree with you more. The state of distribution of digital media outside it’s home-region is woeful and I can’t understand how they don’t understand the simple equation of: bigger audience = more money. They are doing themselves more harm than good.

    Even if the ad-supported services, like Hulu, charged a (reasonable) subscription for overseas customers, they’d see a great influx of people willing to hand over their money for access to their favourite programs.

    The problem is the content middle-men in this country – the commercial FTA and pay television providers, book publishers and record shops. The agreements they sign with the producers of our most loved media products basically contain anti-competitive clauses that prohibit distribution outside of that agreement. When this gets really bad is when a local broadcaster buys the rights to a program then refuses to air it (I do remember reading somewhere a while ago that N10 has Craig Ferguson already, but isn’t showing it).

    Although, if you want a good (read: totally outlandish) conspiracy theory: maybe they’re doing it so that they have a reason to continue suing people for copyright infringement as they attempt to get content that’s not available for sale in their country? Hmm…

    Lastly, Craig Ferguson is, frankly, brilliant. Love his show.

    • +1 to this comment.

      Frankly in the age where I can download almost any PC video game the moment it comes out on Steam, and I can download almost any music track I want on iTunes, and all of this is completely legal why the frak do I have to go to the video store, or worse, conform to a TV station’s complicated, ever-changing schedule, to be able to watch what I want in terms of TV and videos?

      So many Australians would pay for a credible service. There is clearly a market. Why … won’t … someone address that market?

  2. There is a great (legal) torrent floating around called “Piracy is Good?”. It is essentially an entertainment industry exec delivering a wake up call to the outdated policies commonly espoused from within his industry.

    Interestingly, he harps on about how downloading is not the “distracted” viewing of content a lot of TV users engage in, but rather users are actually seeking out and making an effort to obtain content, which is revolutionary. There is after all, no programme guide for torrents!

    Nice site by the way.

    • Cheers!

      Yeah, I think I have seen that video at some point. It’s hilarious when you do actually talk to people in the entertainment industry. Most of them do really realise the situation. But industry inertia is a powerful thing to try and combat. And the film and TV industry has been the same way for so long that I’m not sure it knows how to change.

      Still, at the end of the day, someone will change it, from the outside or from the inside. Eventually something will buckle. That’s the way capitalism works. When consumers clearly want a product, it will appear, by hook or by crook!

  3. The problem is that a service such as Hulu couldn’t be offered in Australia at the moment because a lot of content deals for Television companies were done several years ago – well before the strong demand that we see today.

    The television companies get exclusive regional rights during the licence period and networks reserve that right which is why Hulu, or a similar service won’t be seen for some time. Then there is the advertising dollars the networks get – television is still king in regards to advertising dollars. The networks aren’t going to canabalise this until we get to that sweet tipping point, when most of us will resent the networks for being so old fashioned :)

    There’s no denying that the U.S. are far more advanced than Australia when it comes to entertainment, and especially online entertainment. We’re just going to have to bide our time with torrents until we get what we want.

    You’ll also networks having more ‘day and date’ offerings, where programs will be shown in Australia on or near the date they are premiered in the States which will curb illegal downloads – You’ll be able to watch your favourite show well before your friend gets home, fires up the computer, searches for the torrent, downloads, waits, then watches it on their pc, or through a media server which won’t be as good quality as broadcast.

    Personally, I like to lean back when I get home and let the content come to me with no fuss.

  4. Thanks for all the comments!

    I remember trying to download a Sea Patrol (don’t hate me) Season 2 episode of the Nine website. It was such a god awefull experience, than I never went back to the site.

    I don’t know what the situation is now. But this illustrates how a poor experience can hamper acceptance. This of cause leads onto the whole DRM thing, which I was trying to avoid :-)

  5. BTW, Internode also offers ABC iView unmetered (along with a stack of Internet radio stations). Our family uses iView constantly, and we’re hanging out for more: longer retention of episodes, wider range of series and commercial access. We would certainly pay a subscription or pay-per-view to get the viewing we want. We already buy a great many DVDs, and would really prefer to buy and view/download movies/episodes instead.

    People who put out money for also PayTV are an huge unserved market for purchased online media. But after all, who needs customers?

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