Readers of this blog will know that I’m a big fan of music and movies. I subscribe to all manner of mailing lists and regularly read up on latest releases on a variety of online movie and music resources. On Facebook I am fan to countless musicians and bands, and am very aware when new releases are out in the marketplace. I initially wrote about this issue 10 years ago, and I’m sad to report that global media availability is still highly idiosyncratic.
Big artists like Justin Timberlake and Beyoncé know that if they don’t make their music available globally when it is released, they will become victims of piracy and will loose significant earnings potential. I still though come across even promo videos on YouTube which have for some reason not been enabled for my location - the UK! The UK still being one of the major entertainment marketplaces in the world - particularly from the perspective of promotional potential.
I get notified that Artist A has a new release out today, I go to iTunes, and it’s ’Not available for your Region’. I then go to the Artist or record label website, and am heartened to see that yes they sell digital downloads on-site. But when I try to add to basket / checkout, it says that the website caters only for the local market where that website is based - USA, Australia etc. I’m still surprised this happens at all in today’s global economy. Fans like me like to get their hands on the latest media content as soon as it is made available. If they cannot acquire the MP3 or Video etc. by legitimate means, they will often resort to alternative means of acquisition.
In the past, record labels used to stagger releases between Regions - we still have new UK releases appearing on a Mondays, while new US releases appear on the following day - Tuesday. The most famous recent global media release was Beyoncé’s new album which was simultaneously released to all markets / territories overnight. In fact, pretty much all major artists know to release simultaneously or fall victim to piracy. Even Radiohead, who pioneered independent releasing, don’t restrict the availability of their music by region. I find it very peculiar when I come a across a fairly minor artist with little or no presence in the UK, and little content on either Amazon or iTunes, that they choose to restrict download access on their websites?
As a Veronica Mars fan, I was delighted that I could purchase / rent the new movie on iTunes simultaneously as it was released in the Cinema. I believe this will become increasingly the case for minor and art house films - particularly ones with long running times. I like to go to the cinema to see the big 3D blockbusters, but more intimate films work fine in a domestic setting. For film studios there are of course associated costs in distributing and promoting a film, where it may make more sense to release straight to iTunes. I’m quite happy to pay £6-£10 to view a brand new release at home at my own leisure. There is often a zeitgeist about new movie releases which quickly fades too - a certain period to strike it when it’s hot. For this reason it is advantageous for movie studios to make some films available via multiple sources - as with time, their releases become less topical and less desirable, and will face a dwindling audience. As has been proven by global music releases, and let’s not forget console games like GTA - where people queue up overnight to get their hands on the goods. If you deny or restrict consumers access to your products, consumers are forced to seek alternative means or spend their money on entirely different offerings.
I see no logical reason any more for staggering releases or restricting access on the basis of country location. We increasingly have a more fluid population which moves from San Francisco, to Singapore, to Dubai, to London and wherever - these people are wired into the entertainment network via countless different media, and they will want the same access wherever in the world they might settle. Game of Thrones - as the most pirated TV programme of all time is another classic example of this. In the UK, Game of Thrones is only accessible via Sky satellite television - there are several households in the UK particularly in heavily built up areas who cannot pick up Sky as the line-of-sight is interrupted by tall buildings or other obstacles. I myself was only relatively recently able to access Game of Thrones via Sky’s online offering NowTV. For the first few seasons, there were no legitimate means for me to access said show. The maker of Game of Thrones and much of my favourite Television to date is HBO, who have their own HBO Go site in America. However, access this site from the UK and you get ’To access HBO GO℠, you must reside within the fifty states of the United States of America.’ For this reason, Netflix is much more likely to win the TV wars as their model is largely open to the majority of the world. Let’s not forget that there are a myriad of browser plugins, proxy and VPN services which can grant you acces to US sites or say US version of Netflix.
The truth it that the Internet has engineered a fairly major paradigm shift were regional boundaries are concerned. Everything these days has a more international flavour - we pick up on international news stories pretty much instantly - a South Korean rapper (Psy) can become a global celebrity pretty much overnight - in fact anyone can. You then have the basics of supply and demand - if there is something popular out there, it obviously triggers a demand - in the modern economy, one which is way beyond regional or cultural boundaries. When Psy’s single was released, people all around the world wanted to buy it, same with Ylvis’s The Fox- made by a little known Norwegian comedy duo.
Media companies surely must recognise that nowadays there is a steady global demand by increasingly ’wired’ audiences - to restrict availability of something is tantamount to cut off that marketplace’s revenue. As soon as fans are aware of a new song or album, film or game, they pretty much want it immediately - so either the media owners wise up to the changed paradigm or they inadvertently continue to fuel the act of piracy.