Dear media industry: blocking VPNs doesn’t make you money — it feeds piracy

In January, Netflix expanded to 190 countries. Rather tellingly, Chief Executive Reed Hastings noted: “It will take a while to bring the catalogs together.” That’s something of an understatement. In some countries, even Netflix’s own series are absent from Netflix, due to earlier deals being cut with local cable providers. Elsewhere, to say libraries have slim pickings is putting it mildly.

For many users, this never made any odds. Prior to Netflix showing up, people used it anyway by way of VPN software. This spoofs your location, enabling you to browse and play media ‘geolocked’ to a specific country, for example the Netflix US catalogue if you’re living in the UK. When Netflix expanded, people carried on as if nothing had happened, presumably after looking at their local catalogues and wondering if tumbleweeds were about to bob across the screen.

At one point, Netflix didn’t seem to care about VPNs. Although they were technically against the company’s terms, it was perhaps pragmatic to turn a blind eye. Netflix was still getting paid, and by extension so were the companies who owned the series people were watching. Only media executives don’t see things this way. Instead, they consider people using VPNs the new ‘home tapers’, killing the industry through stopping movie and television companies making local deals. In other words, a single Netflix catalogue is bad for business, when you can in some countries carve off the good bits and sell them to a dozen individual networks, each of which charges for access.

Of late, the most common thing I’m seeing regarding Netflix is people quitting the service, on account of no longer being able to access content they were enjoying. Their alternative, almost without exception: returning to torrenting. I wonder whether movie and television execs will ever wake up to the reality of modern media distribution. Having a service available worldwide is irrelevant if the content doesn’t go with it. And if you restrict the content, people will simply stop paying.

March 15, 2016. Read more in: Movies, Opinions, Technology, Television

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Napster’s co-founder has half a good idea regarding watching new blockbuster movies at home

It was recently reported that Napster co-founder Sean Parker was working on a new way to get blockbuster movies into your home on release day. According to Variety, his plan is called Screening Room, and would give you the chance to rent any movie on the day of release, albeit for a vastly inflated charge over a standard movie rental.

In the abstract, this is a fantastic idea, and one I’ve long argued in favour of. For various reasons, many people cannot easily get to a cinema. Some are housebound due to disabilities. Others have babies and young children, making escapes to the cinema some kind of long-forgotten memory.

I belong to the second group, and these days get increasingly annoyed at spoilers being repeatedly fired into my face the second a movie is released, on account of knowing I won’t get the chance to see it for months. The question is what I’d be willing to pay and do in order to avoid waiting months for a home rental release.

Unfortunately, not what Screening Room’s planning. As I noted, it seems smart in the abstract, but the details are tone-deaf. First, you’ll need yet another box to sit under the telly. Secondly, the price of $50 (which would probably be £40 in the UK) is excessive and presumably making the assumption it replaces four ‘lost’ tickets. More bizarrely, a sweetener comes in the form of two free local cinema tickets for any movie rented, despite the fact many people using this system would not be able to get to the cinema in the first place. Odd.

The whole notion of movie windowing seems ridiculous these days, and some indies at least have realised that they can make money by getting movies on to iTunes and the like simultaneously with limited runs in cinemas. I’d happily pay the price of a shiny disc (15-to–20 quid) for a rental of a blockbuster within a fortnight of cinema release, but it seems the industry still isn’t keen on budging nearly enough to make that a reality.

March 14, 2016. Read more in: Film, Movies, Opinions, Technology

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Scott Pilgrim bombs, and I ask: Where have people’s imaginations gone?

I watched Scott Pilgrim vs. the World this weekend, and thought it was an enjoyable and imaginative film. Eager to find out how it had fared overseas, I was disheartened to discover it was a total flop in the USA, and looks unlikely to fare much better elsewhere. The worst thing about this, other than the talented Edgar Wright now being saddled with far greater challenges for funding his upcoming films, was that all of the aspects I found so enjoyable about Scott Pilgrim—its irreverence, inventiveness, and sense of fun—were ignored or rejected by many critics, who struggled to ‘get’ the film.

The Hollywood Reporter dismissed the film as nonsense, calling it juvenile and saying that: “Nothing makes any real sense. The ‘duels’ change their rules on a whim, and no one takes the games very seriously, including the exes, who, when defeated, explode into coins the winner may collect”.

Yes, well done: you’ve realised Scott Pilgrim isn’t a documentary. Also, it’s not anchored in hum-drum reality. The film (and the comic-book it’s based on) has its own logic fashioning its own reality. But the thing is, most films aren’t ‘real’ in any sense—it’s just that they portray ‘TV realism’; that critics are so quick to belittle the kind of hyper-reality of Scott Pilgrim is hugely disappointing, and in part explains why there’s so much generic crap being churned out of the Hollywood machine.

Even the usually dependable Empire’s review begins with a massively dispiriting statement: “Here’s another great film of 2010 which takes place partly—or possibly entirely—within the leading man’s head.” Maybe it’s just me, but I never saw Scott Pilgrim’s acts and scenes as anything other than totally ‘real’ for the characters that were experiencing them. In this comic-book world, foes really do explode into coins when defeated, and everyone has the power to ‘battle’ in crazy, over-the-top ways.

That everyone feels the need to ‘explain’ every single thing that happens in a movie, or to ground it within the reality that we inhabit, is depressing as hell. Movies should be an outlet for the imagination, not reportage; and those movies claiming to be or striving to be larger than life should not feel the need to anchor themselves in more mundane settings, surroundings and reality, just to cater for people who aren’t willing to just go with the flow and live within a world they’ve never seen or experienced before, and that they themselves will never get to experience, except through the screen.

August 31, 2010. Read more in: Movies, Opinions