Content is a right, not a DVD

Part 2 of: TV’s Missed Opportunity

We’ve come a long way from recording songs off the radio for romantic mix tapes. These days I share the songs that best express my feelings, hopes and dreams digitally. But, a lot more has changed from cassette to playlist than it might seem.

When downloading music and ripping it from CDs began, conceptually the nature of the product changed from a thing you hold in your hand into something that you have the rights to use. John Mayer recently asked people who illegally downloaded, and liked, a copy of his new album to go out and “register” their copy. That is, he asked them to go buy it. But, the language he used is a pretty clear sign of the times.

For many consumers, content doesn’t exist as a physical thing anymore. Instead, content is something you buy the rights to own and enjoy. Once I buy a movie, I own a physical copy as well as the right to rip and burn as many copies as I want for myself. But, this leads some to ask, how many times do I have to pay for it?

A while back I was jonesing to watch Star Wars, Episode 4: A New Hope, and took a trip down to Borders to buy it. It cost $60! I couldn’t help but think, I’ve owned this trilogy my entire life! My whole family went to see all the movies in theaters, both times, purchased the movies on VHS and DVD, bought action figures, posters etc.  Why do I need to buy this again?

In this light, illegal downloading doesn’t feel so illegal. And, that is a problem for anyone with a stake in TV or DVDs.

On the flip side, virtual content is thought of as inherently less valuable than hard copies. I recently purchased Something Something Something Dark Side from iTunes while visiting my parents over Christmas. Yet, iTunes counts that copy, as my only copy. I can take it from that computer and put it on another, but I can’t download it again without paying… Say what?

iTunes and Amazon ask full price for entirely digital copies and offer no guarantee I won’t have to buy my whole media library again if my computer explodes. Sure it’s my responsibility to back them up, but really I’m not very motivated to do that extra work. I just want an easy experience with my media and not worry about the hours spent double-checking my library. Digital copies feel less valuable and less secure long term, so why am I being asked to pay a premium price?

Something to hold onto will always be superior to a backup file in my mind, no matter how digital I get. I don’t like buying from iTunes because it doesn’t send out DVD or save me the extra work of backing up my files. Plus, most people can’t even hook their computers up to a TV to really enjoy it anyway–so it seems even less valuable to them (just a guess). In the end, the shows that I like the most are the ones I’ll never, ever buy online.

In this light, the lower value associated with virtual copies makes stealing (again) not seem like that big a deal. It’s just a copy on my hard drive, frail and weak.

So what does all this mean? The way we think about content seems to be changing, and thus how people value it may be changing as well.

Premium content producers should pay more attention to how consumers value their products. I would argue that illegal downloading, one of the main thorns in the TV and Movie industry’s side, is driven from beliefs that virtual content is low value to begin with (among other things). As a result, to most people “free” downloads don’t seem like a very big deal.

However, companies could address these feelings head on by redefining the value of the content people buy. (I’m not gonna say “added value,” but) providing free, easy backup and greater access to purchased programs, sending out physical copies (that cost what, ten cents to make!?) or simply charging less for virtual content could significantly influence consumer behavior.

The more confidence we have in the longevity of our content–be it hard copies or back up–and the more access points we have to it, the greater the value of that content. Bit torrent can get someone a movie in 20 minutes and Walmart can sell me a DVD. But, a company that sells me content, guarantees its safety and lets me watch it anywhere, that’s really what I want. Because if I buy into something like that, it’s more than a movie I just downloaded, that’s a product I can get behind.

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Author: Jason Potteiger – Associate Editor at TNGG

Jason Potteiger I’m a Suffolk U. grad with degrees in Political Science and Advertising. I like reading both John and Douglas Adams and spending time in the mountains of New Hampshire (where I grew up). These days I call Boston home, but I have aspirations of one day working in Washington, D.C. and New Delhi, India. Subscribe to Jason's Posts via RSS 

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