I never meant to be a pirate. I just wanted to watch my shows and play my games as I had always done.
In the 1980s, VCRs were a hot commodity. You could record your shows to watch later or save them to watch over and over again. If you watched an even live, you could pause the recording and cut out the commercials so when you watched it again you could watch it the way you wanted to.
Cable television was supposed to have limited or no commercials. They couldn’t resist the almighty dollar and slowly began putting in more and ads to make more money.
As the 1990s marched on, I grew weary of television. There were a handful of shows that I liked, but the cost of cable television was high and I had to justify to myself the need for TV in my life.
One show, Babylon 5, went from syndicated and aired on broadcast television to being owned by TNT. I paid the price for cable TV for one show. Soon after the show ended, I learned that I could download high quality copies of Babylon 5. I no longer had to watch my grainy VHS tapes. I did so without hesitation.
Napster came soon after, making it easier for me to have high quality rips of my music. I already ripped my CDs, but the release groups were so much better at it that I soon deleted my own rips and used theirs. They had better equipment that I could not afford.
Napster was put out of business shortly after, but it was too late. There were already dozens of other ways to obtain music, movies, television shows, games, software, porn, textbooks, books, academic papers, and more that it didn’t matter.
By this point in time, I was watching shows that weren’t available in the United States and never would be. I would pay to have access to these shows, but it simply isn’t available. Have I Got News For You, Panorama, Horizon, Tonight, Formula 1, Misfits, and Spooks are all from the United Kingdom. I’ve also watched Real Humans, a Swedish television show, and others over the years.
Spooks came to the U.S., as MI-5 because the word “spook” is a racial slur in America. The show often ran 57-59 minutes long in the U.K., and 42-45 minutes in America to fit in commercials. You are losing one quarter of the show for advertisements. I watched a few and key plot points were gone so the networks could make money. So, back to downloading I went.
In the early 2000s, my friend, Bas, told me of a musician he thought I would like. I heard so often, “Oh you like Led Zeppelin, you’ll love this.” They were always wrong and I was thankful I could download, listen, and delete without wasting my money. YouTube has largely replaced this process for me, but, at the time there was no other option. Bas, however, has always been good at knowing me. I logged into his ftp server and downloaded Bebel Gilberto‘s latest album.
I spent several days going from shop to shop looking for her CD. No one in Lincoln, Nebraska had it and none were willing to order it for me despite the fact that I was willing to pay for it ahead of time. I called my mom in New York. She went over to Best Buy. The employees there were happy to order it and she didn’t have to pay in advance. It took a few weeks, but I got my CD. I purchased every subsequent album Bebel Gilberto put out.
This process has largely been how the average pirate operates. They find something they like and they purchase it. Yes, there is a fraction of pirates that will never buy anything anyway, but it has been found time and again that pirates make more purchases than the average person.
Video games and books have been drowned in DRM (digital rights management) so much that it often cripples the game and the reading of the book, creating a rage within the legitimate purchaser. Pirates have taken care of that, too.
For more than a decade, people begged for online streaming services to watch shows how they wanted. While this has happened to some degree, British shows are largely unavailable in the United States. Formula 1 has, for years been a shit show in the U.S., and the “pirates” stream in high quality right from the U.K. Again, I’d gladly pay for quality service, but even Liberty Media, which owns Formula 1 has botched their streaming services to the point that I was not willing to give them any money this year.
I don’t have Netflix, Hulu, or any other streaming service. I have no need for them. If there is something I wish to watch, I download it. If it is good, I purchase a DVD or BluRay. These services came more than a decade too late to grab me as a customer. Their prices change and they continually change their lineup. More than once I have seen someone complain that they were only partway through a series only for it to be pulled and they can’t watch it anymore. You know what those people do? They go to the Pirate Bay or other site to get what they can’t watch. For me, I just go to my shelf and pick out the discs and watch it.
It gets worse from here. If a company owns the rights, they can pull their product at any time, leaving you with nothing.
In 2017, Disney CEO Bob Iger announced he was pulling the entire Star Wars catalog and Marvel universe films from Netflix after 2019. It was then announced a number of Disney titles would also be pulled from Netflix because it was going to start its own streaming service.
While this will leave millions of people without access to these movies, I own them and have digital copies I can watch whenever I want. I also do not think it will stop there. Every studio will eventually have their own streaming service, of which they will expect you to pay $10-20 a month for access. People will return to The Pirate Bay for what they want, how they want it. CBS already announced their new Star Trek series will only air on their streaming service. As much as I like Star Trek, I’m not paying for a service for one show.
All that has happened is the old companies are making money while the customer is shafted again. They don’t understand technology. They don’t understand their customer. They are holding onto an old, outdated business model for short term gains.
Customers demanded a la carte service. They sort of got it, but each show you want to watch is now on a different streaming service with its own account, billing, app, and media catalog. Customers are not better off than before. The process is now more overwhelming, making places like The Pirate Bay more alluring.
In reality, cable bills aren’t lower, retention of shows doesn’t last, you can’t pay for what you watch. This is why people return to piracy. They care about content, not the medium it’s delivered to them on. They don’t want to pay $100 a month for multiple streaming services for a few shows.
Disney will launch their streaming service in 2019. I won’t be a part of it.
I have a collection of more than 500 movies and television shows on DVD and BluRay with digital copies on my hard drive. I have more than 200 CDs of music, also with digital copies. I watch and listen when I want and how I want.
If companies cannot or will not provide the services asked for, the pirates will always be there to step in and give it to us. They have been doing it for forty years. Until the old guard changes or dies, nothing is every going to change and I’m okay with the pirates.