Windowing & Piracy

Another year, another bogus analysis of piracy in indie film. The latest is this gem from Adam Leipzig (who I actually like a lot), and Entertainment Media Partners in Cultural Weekly. The report came out just before Sundance, but I was too busy to even take a look until now. Adam does a pretty good job of showing the numbers for indie films at Sundance this year – how many applied, got accepted, possible budget ranges, etc. I like it when anyone tries to explain data in indie film, so kudos for this.

The problem comes when he starts to analyze piracy’s impacts on indie film. He shows a lot of lost revenue, but his calculations are based on a pretty interesting assumption – that 5% of illegal downloaders would have purchased the film at $3 per transaction. There is no evidence, or even theory, presented as to how he arrives at this percentage. But my bigger problem is the logic – let’s just pretend for a minute that 5% of the 12M+ people who illegally downloaded Whiplash would have purchased the film for $3 meaning $1.825M in lost revenue (per the infographic)… well, that assumption leads to another, that there would be a mechanism for them to actually make this purchase. But that wasn’t an option for anyone who pirated Whiplash (he doesn’t offer transaction dates, so let’s assume most of the piracy occurred early in the film’s release). If they wanted to pay $3 for the film instead of pirating it, they couldn’t.  There was no button, no availability, because of old-fashioned windowing practices. This is true of every film on the chart.

What the study actually shows is not that piracy hurts anyone, but rather that millions of dollars are lost each year because of antiquated business practices. If pirates could buy the films for $3 they might, and if 5% of them did, the business would see millions in new revenues. In fact, for the 14 films from Sundance 2014/5 that he studied, that’s over $6.5M dollars lost because of a crap business model. Seems to me that if we studied this a bit more, we might focus less on piracy and more on getting rid of windows.

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