It used to be the either poor or unscrupulously cheap of us would buy pirated CDs or DVDs off the street (count me among them). But you got what you paid for – shitty sound quality, or camcorder fumbles and audience members ambling in front of the camera.
So there was an understandable price differential – less money for low quality, or more money (full price) for high quality.
Then came online sales of CDs and DVDs, on sites like Amazon & Buy.com. They fit nicely into this price scheme too – you’d get a discount on Amazon or Buy.com, but you’d lose the immediacy of the purchase. You’d have to wait several days for your CD or DVD to arrive.
So we had:
- High quality & immediate – Retail – Highest price
- High quality + delay – Buying online – Medium price
- Low quality + a little work – Bootleg – Lowest price
Makes sense, right?
Now, with the download of streamable media like music, TV shows and movies, this perfectly reasonable price:quality structure has been turned on its head.
Let’s see – I can download:
- a movie for $3.99 off iTunes; their assy format occupies 3GB for a 2hr movie, and it’s choppy/stilted when watching on my desktop; downloading a movie takes about 2 hrs on my DSL connection
- a movie for free off BitTorrent; the formats use (which, admittedly, typically involve downloading an esoteric codec or two) typically less than 1GB for a 2hr movie, and the quality is stupendous – high-quality with smooth playback; downloading time is typically less than half an hour
What happened to “you get what you pay for”?
Fuck that. I don’t care whose fault this is; iTunes is a horrible value proposition.
As far as I’m concerned, ABC.com is the only one that seems to get it right. They broadcast their popular shows in their full-episode versions using a player that somehow transmits an HD-quality image over our weak DSL line. They monetize by showing ads 3-4 times during the course of an hour-long broadcast. Fair? Sure!
My boyfriend has watched about 30 ABC show episodes over the past week, and watches the ads since they’re short (30 seconds) and impossible to skip over unlike with Tivo.
The other TV networks can continue to operate under a prehistoric mindset with respect to digital media and online transmission. I’ll continue to use BitTorrent, and so will tens of millions of others.