When Piracy is actually an under-served market

I was downloading a pirated tv show today when I realized that yes, I'm a pirate, but I'm also part of a market niche that isn't being filled. What's more, I can tell you how to make money off that niche. Before I go further, let me be clear that I do buy content. I buy books, ebooks, software, and I even buy the occasional DVD boxed set. I also have a subscription to Netflix. The only content I pirate are TV shows - just content that I would get to watch for free anyway.

I can tell you the exact moment I started pirating tv shows. It was during the first season of Stargate Universe, which I was watching on Hulu. The episodes were being posted a week after they aired, which was fine. But then someone at the network decided that the shows would be bumped a month, which is not fine.

I already knew how to find and download torrents but I had never bothered before. I was content to wait a little while, watch ads, and generally go along with the program. But that 30 day wait was too much. I wanted to see what happened next.

So I pirated that episode and the next couple episodes.

Now I get pretty much all my TV content from torrents. It is simply a better viewing experience than I can get from Hulu or Netflix. The resolution is higher and I can rewind fast-forward, jump, pause, etc. And it's not dependent on a live internet connection.

My epiphany today was that there was money to be made in torrented tv shows. The pirates aren't the market; we're the product that can be sold to advertisers.  That's how TV shows are funded, so why not extend the model to torrents?

I was thinking that the network could make its own torrent out of an episode and the ads sold to pay in the show. As soon as the episode airs, make the video available. This will beat any pirated copy.

I would absolutely get the official torrent. Assuming that this video is based on the pre-broadcast source, it will likely be better quality than any of its competition. That would make it worthwhile to suffer through the ads.

Every person who downloads the official torrent can be counted as a viewer and then sold to advertisers. Nifty idea, no?

I'm fine with being the product; I know how tv works. Someone needs to find a way to sell me to advertisers. That way I get to watch what I want and the network gets to make money on me. It is a win-win situation.

In fact, let's go one step further. Let me sign up for a mailing list and you will virtually guarantee that I will download the official torrent. I won't even bother looking for an alternative (unless the official one sucks). And now you have me as a captive audience.

What's even better is that the mailing list will be drawn from not just 300 million American but from 7 billion people on the planet. if you can't double your audience numbers then you're not trying very hard. You can also use it to identify countries where you  might want to sell the rights to the show. Any country that has a high concentration of viewers obviously has an audience for the show. Ka-ching!

Does anyone know a good reason why this won't work?

image by Travelin' Librarian

About Nate Hoffelder (11471 Articles)
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader: "I've been into reading ebooks since forever, but I only got my first ereader in July 2007. Everything quickly spiraled out of control from there. Before I started this blog in January 2010 I covered ebooks, ebook readers, and digital publishing for about 2 years as a part of MobileRead Forums. It's a great community, and being a member is a joy. But I thought I could make something out of how I covered the news for MobileRead, so I started this blog."

14 Comments on When Piracy is actually an under-served market

  1. Ads in digital video files can be easily skipped or removed.
    Skippable / Removable ads are worth nothing.
    So, I don’t think it’s a good idea.


  2. The mentality among the content providers is that they are the only game in town and that more money can be made by yanking the customers chain. When customers get fed up, the content providers cry piracy rather than adapt.

    This would be on par with a US fashion house lagging 5 years behind the Paris Runways and then bitching about people wearing knockoffs.

    I’m presently buying content that never gets removed from it’s wrapper because I already saw it years ago but want the artist to get paid.

  3. Once you have downloaded the Official Torrent you then have a copy. Viewable anytime you want. They would argue that if you download each episode of say season 2 then you will not buy the dvd set of season 2 when they release it.

    • True, but I don’t buy DVD sets of everything anyway. Also, why buy the DVD when I can wait and get it from Netflix?

      • That maybe true, but the industry doesn’t look at what you and i do and don’t do. They know that there are those that do buy boxsets etc… and that is money in their pocket. In their eyes you are still a pirate and all pirates are equal. Whether its one song or tv show or the entire library.

  4. Why don’t these companies just make proprietary software, so that you could download tv shows with embedded ads. The video files could be downloaded via p2p and the video files could have drm that the average Joe would not know how to strip. By playing the video file in the proprietary software, commercials could become mandatory. Pirates would probably flock to this form if it ever became a reality. Downloads would be safe and reliable, and advertisers would be able to see how many people were seeing their advertisements (even if pirates write a simple python script to remove the drm.)
    Just my 2 cents

  5. “Does anyone know a good reason why this won’t work?”

    Insane legal restrictions on regional distribution of media.

  6. Hulu is pissing me off. I’m currently watching Merlin and there’s 5, count
    em 5 commercial DOTS interrupting the program. And that’s AFter the
    initial starting adverts!

    They need to stop being stupid about how they splash commercials around.
    Stop wasting my time. If I didn’t want to buy it the first time I seen it, I still
    don’t want to buy it the 50th time I’ve seen it in just a few days time.

    What they need to do is place quicker, smarter ads, and a new one each time and place them just after the title intro (not before), and a bunch of them grouped together in the middle of the show as a break. Sure sometimes I’ll use that time to get a drink or something, but alot of the times I’ll watch
    the commercials. This would leave me much less irritated then trying to get
    interested in the show and constantly being interupted by a commercial every 5 minutes for 3 Yes 3 ads on one DoT for 1.15 min+ for 5 dots an episode … that’s really irritating!

    I’d be ok with the mailing list or even e-mail mail list, but would not be
    ok with placing ads within the programs of torrents. Why?, because
    while I don’t currently use them, I might one day want to and I don’t
    want all the torrents to be turned to shit just like every other over-commercialized thing out there.

    What they don’t get is it’s not about placing a ton of ads. In fact, the more
    I see an ad, the less I want the product that I see, because they irritate me
    with it over and over. It’s about placement. It’s about where and when
    the ads are placed. It’s not about over-saturation of an ad. I’m going to see
    the ad no matter what, but I’m not going to like it when it’s rammed down
    my throat constantly.

    The reason I like watching things online is to avoid the usual television
    adverts … so the very least they could do is make them different, and
    less intrusive … then I wouldn’t even mind watching the ads at all.

    • The problem with Hulu is that it is owned by networks and studios who don’t want it to succeed. Hulu’s success will upset their already profitable cable and broadcast market segments. And so the studios are trying to stifle Hulu by making it less and less appealing.

      • An alternate possibility:
        Hulu is owned by networks and studios that want to squeeze more money out of their creation and aren’t sure how. They see all those users, but the profits are too slim by their standards. Hulu-plus was their first try to beef up margins.
        They even tried selling it last year but didn’t like the deals they were offered (or were shocked by how many they got–rumor had it Microsoft, Google, and Apple were front and center) so they pulled it back.
        Remember that regular broadcast TV runs 18 minutes of ads and 42 minutes of content per hour. Some of that ad revenue goes to the local afilliates and cablecos and satcasters but there is good money in those ads (probably why Google bidding for Hulu spooked’em).
        So Hulu gets compared to broadcast, revenue-per-customer wise, and falls short.
        To their credit, they do understand that *less-ads* is part of what makes Hulu attractive to viewers. As is the anytime/anywhere access. They’re just not sure what their value proposition is or how to best monetize their audience without scaring them away (to Netflix, Amazon, or the Torrents). And now the Cablecos, satcasters, and Microsoft are ramping up *their* versions of internet TV services, with Apple, Sony, and Google sure to follow Microsoft.
        It’s early in the evolution of InternetTV–way earlier than ebooks, which may be headed for a plateau soon–and nobody has yet figured out an acceptable balance between access, convenience, and price.
        It’ll be a while before it settles out: we’re still in the experimental phase…

        • True, but that doesn’t explain the week, 30 day, and 45 day delays in releasing content to Hulu. And then there’s the intermittent availability of content. This lack of content makes the service a lot less appealing than piracy.

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