How can we keep up with hackers?

May 1, 2014

It has been brewing for a while

First things first: in no way do I condone piracy or those that promote and enable it. I do however respect them for their constant innovation in the face of adversity. 

Piracy has been around since counterfeit books and VHS tapes migrated south from Asia. But in 1990 new technologies changed the music industry forever. Napster was launched and countless other platforms mooched off Napsters success. It took years for companies like Spotify to emerge despite the clear demand for content. 

We have seen torrents develop for years into the ultimate form of piracy since, with the platform now being used to break piracy records as recently as last week during the new Game of Thrones series. However being complicated in nature has often scared off individuals not technically savvy enough to understand the system and process.

Then Popcorn Time came along, which has simplified the process so that any consumer can access a movie or television series with a click of the mouse. A few coders/hackers from Buenos Aires built the program and then released the code on the Internet for free. This enabled anyone to re-name and re-release the program as their own. This began a cycle of launch and shutdown of the software.

Image: Popcorn Time, a controversial new streaming app the tech industry has called the "Netflix for pirated movies.

The domino effect on Pay TV and the like

This is just the beginning of some pretty dramatic changes to industries such as Pay TV, DVD, free to air and cinema. Are these industries sitting ducks waiting to be knocked off by tech-savvy, innovative pirates?

In 2008, 85.4 million DVD units were sold in Australia compared with 57 million in 2013. (Ibis Industry Report – Video Distribution in Australia) The industry has been kept alive by Blu-ray technology, but how long can that last when viewers can download Blu-ray quality movies illegally?

There are multiple innovations that could keep ‘Free to air TV’ appealing, such as HD & Digital, however the industry is still heavily reliant on advertising spend which requires one key thing: viewers. Recent changes to media laws have reduced networks obligations pertaining to local content. This has enabled them to compete with the demand for global content from the Australian consumer.

If you have noticed the customer service drop off at your local cinema it shouldn’t be a surprise.Staff numbers have been cut, ticket, food & beverage prices have increased, and there has been an expansion of the premium (Gold Class) experience. Technology played its part with digital projectors and distribution chains replacing the ancient 35mm film, 3D movies and digital tickets.

Foxtel is the biggest Pay TV player in the country. Foxtel Go and Foxtel Play allow subscribers to access TV content digitally. Another initiative they are undertaking to fight against piracy, is purchasing exclusive rights to popular content such as Game of Thrones season four, preventing platforms like iTunes from selling Game of Thrones legitimately in Australia.

The consequences

Australians crave global content but have been brought up watching free TV. The right to experience content for free is wired into our brains. The introduction of new technology has changed the way we view content forever. Global players like Hulu, Netflix and Spotify have dominated the music industry. If the old timers don’t meet the new needs of their consumer, they will be lost to global suppliers ahead of the curve. Let’s be honest though as is most often the case when push comes to shove in Australia, consumers will explore illegal programs such as Popcorn Time.

Brands such as JB-HiFi are adapting to the change in market conditions. Recently releasing JB-HiFi NOW – an affordable streaming music service that rivals Spotify and connects well with the bricks and mortar establishments they are renowned for. Not only have they branched into the music streaming service, they are embracing new distribution methods with Ultra Violet video, taking on eBook giant Amazon. This is an excellent example of a strong brand embracing the inevitable change that technology brings. We will have to wait for the final result, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Brands need to look to coders, hackers, even pirates, to keep their finger on the pulse of innovation. They are the ones figuring out how to better serve the end customer, which should be the ultimate priority of the industries and brands affected.