The Middle East is in desperate need of high-quality, legal, online content
Today, I was exchanging tweets with the Dubai-based web site, Kipp Report. It informed me that the Orbit Showtime Network– one of if not the biggest TV network in the region – is suing a pirate $962,400 for illegally downloading its HD content, at a rate of $1,200 per piracy act.
Clearly, the pirate is a serial downloader, given the enormous amount of money the bill has come to. But the fact that OSN is doing this means that even one-off downloaders are at risk of having to fork out obscene amounts of cash for doing something that everybody does.
Yes, everyone does it. Anyone who says they haven’t downloaded illegal content is lying. Indeed, the CIA famously had to drop a pre-requisite for job candidates that said, to be successful, the candidate must never have downloaded illegal content. The agency found that it was having to reject almost everyone, so the policy was reversed. If ultra-patriotic, ultra-professional wunderkinds are still downloading stuff, then obviously everyone else is doing it, too. And the practice is rife across the Middle East.
This is because Middle Eastern networks are still living in the dark ages when it comes to providing legal online content. In other parts of the world, TV networks have wised up to the fact that they can’t do much about the torrents of illegal content flooding the Internet (excuse the pun). What they can do, though, is entice would-be illegal downloaders to get their content from their own web sites by making it accessible, with the only drawback being a couple of 30-second adverts to sit through. All of the free-to-air channels in the UK have TV streaming services on their web sites, and the same can be said for the big networks in the US. It’s just common sense.
Most downloaders are happy to sit through the short adverts if it means they are getting their content legally. As great as it is getting TV shows, movies and music for free, most people still feel pretty guilty about it. If they’re provided with a reasonable alternative that offers a hassle-free viewing experience, then they’ll go for it.
And this is what bothers me about OSN suing this guy for so much money. For one thing, I don’t see how it can possibly have lost $1,200 per downloaded show. It’s not like advertisers won’t pay up if they find pirated versions of the show online. Surely the most you could charge would be the price of a DVD box set? But along with this, suing people for the practice is the wrong way to go about things – the company should instead be looking at ways of enticing people back to the right side of the law.
The fact that OSN offers on-demand TV is a good start. But it’s still only reserved for paid subscribers, and it can’t be viewed online. How about, for everyone else, creating a free subscription service, offering the streaming of basic content such as news and a couple of TV shows? For people who want more content, offer online subscription packages. In both cases, it would mean that people are still getting their content from OSN, not a torrent site. And this would mean that the company would be able to charge more for online ads, because the audience would inevitably grow.
Indeed, if OSN was the first company in the region to offer such a service, it’d make a killing. The firm would have a proper USP, people would flock to the web site, and the brand would be seen as very forward-thinking.
It’s understandable that OSN wants compensation for what it views as stolen content. It’s something the music industry has been wrestling with for years now. But with so little legal content available online, is it at all surprising that people are turning to pirate sites?
I’m told that it’s difficult for companies to provide high-quality online content for legal reasons. This is a shame, because if something’s not done soon, illegally downloading shows will become the norm, even if someone is sued every once in a while. And if that happens, advertisers will pay less, meaning the quality of the shows will tumble, and jobs will be lost. Provide a good alternative, and I guarantee consumers will go for it.