Wednesday, June 11, 2014

How to fix video piracy using PopcornTime

A couple of years ago I had the opportunity to live in the US for a few months, and to try out Netflix. My opinion? Pure genius. It gave you a friendly UI, a huge choice of content and an affordable price. It's no wonder that it's so popular in the US, with more than 30% of the country's internet traffic being on Netflix.

Sure, there are a bunch of issues with Netflix, such as requiring the Silverlight plug-in, not having Game of Thrones in its collection and many others. Most people complain about it not being available in every country.

All are valid complaints, and most are due to the movie studios trying to control the way you consume video content.

In the past few months Popcorn Time, an Open Source application, has managed to take what Netflix is doing to the next level. Even though it's still basically video piracy, Popcorn Time combines the usability of Netflix with the versatility and speed of the torrent protocol allowing anyone to watch a movie in HD with just a click of the mouse. It really is the Napster of our time.

Naturally, this has spooked a lot of the entertainment industry execs. But I feel they should get in on that action. I don't think the world is divided into pirates and paying customers. I think it's divided between customers and potential customers. After all, most of the people I go to the movies with, are also illegal downloaders.  And it's not like they don't afford to purchase the content online (some do), it's just that most official channels are too difficult to use.

So how could this be fixed using Popcorn Time? By Forking it!
It's an open source project, so anyone can build their own version of it, even film studios. Next, implement a simple login mechanism. Torrent trackers are able to use an API key, so that the user is authenticated. Make it a monthly subscription, costing at most 10$ a month (more than that would deter people from using the paid/official version of Popcorn).
Next step would be differentiation. Why would people use the paid version instead of the free version of Popcorn time? The answer would be content. Stick everything you've got in there, from interviews, behind the scenes shots, to coupons for the local cinema. Don't even bother with DRM, as that accomplishes nothing.

I am willing to bet there is an audience for this sort of thing. The costs to implement it? Less than $20000 for the hardware needed to seed all the content, and half a dozen engineers to work on the software. It would probably be done in 2 or 3 weeks. Potential for profit? Millions!

However, I have a feeling that this is never going to happen (never as in not soon). The video industry is still stuck in the past, and the lawyers don't care that from an engineering point of view it's fool-proof, and that their profits can only grow in this scenario. $10 is not much to pay for this kind of convenience, but sadly I'll never be able to say "Shut up and take my money".