Robin Hood vs. Network TV: Piracy and Television


Last week, I took a close look at HBO. Although I did ask the question of responsibility over content, I find HBO’s strategies in the quickly changing world of television to be much more interesting subjects of discussion. With the most recent changes to the world of television, HBO has partnered with Apple to launch its own streaming service called HBO NOW. The goal is to allow those without cable services to access HBO’s content, but the affects on Time Warner’s other networks remains to be seen, as it is unknown how many consumers will drop their cable subscriptions to make a complete shift to streaming. But is HBO NOW only about competing with streaming services or is it another way to incentivize consumers to buy content over piracy?

Television and the world of traditional entertainment consumption has undergone industry changing developments over the last decade. From the advent of TiVo and DVR to Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon, the way people watch their television is disrupting the systems of distribution and advertising that has allowed the world of television to thrive. Most recently the role of streaming has led to discussion about the impending death of television as we know it, with focus groups revealing that content and availability are most valued. Streaming services provide these benefits by allowing on demand viewing through a laptop, but what about when there is no wifi connection or the service is unavailable?

One of the ethical issues that I am considering in my discussion of HBO is piracy. While the options for entertainment consumption are ever changing, there are still people who do not have access to the programs they want to watch. As a result, content piracy has been a large issue in the world of television and film. Is it right for people to illegally download the content they want if they have no other means of watching? What about when people do have other options?

For those interested in learning more about how money is made by television networks here is a helpful video interview with the founder of USA Networks, Kay Koplovitz:  Although HBO’s revenue sources are a little different because of its premium subscription based model, it is helpful to see how cable networks make their money to understand the influence of these developments.

Additionally, I wonder if HBO is being innovative enough. By offering a streaming option, HBO is indeed ahead of the curve in terms of other networks. But NBC and CBS are hot on its tail, and I wonder if there is more HBO can be doing to be ahead of its network and streaming competitors. Do you think HBO can be doing more to be different? How might HBO’s relationship with Apple influence its later innovations?

Feature Image: Found at http://www.rankopedia.com/That’s-all-folks!-Best-Looney-Tunes-Cartoon/CandidateData/5407/.htm. From the Looney Tunes episode Robin Hood Daffy.

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4 thoughts on “Robin Hood vs. Network TV: Piracy and Television”

  1. One method HBO could use to attract new customers is by offering a pay-as-you-watch program that would allow clients to purchase certain shows, seasons or episodes. This could be similar to iTunes purchasing system. This would increase their customer base and curb pirating. Though I have an HBO and Netflix account, I frequently private movies and shows. I’ll admit I generally don’t feel guilty about it. Perhaps it is because I don’t think about it from an ethical or process standpoint? Or maybe it is because their is a disconnect from sitting down and mindlessly watching a show and the creation of the show (actors, producers, directors, etc).

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    1. What do you think the main goal of pirating is? Do people pirate because they can’t find the content accessible in a legal platform? Or do people just not want to pay for content when they know where to find it for free?

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  2. When I want HBO content and they don’t make it available, I’ll get it illegally and then buy the DVD or the streaming later when it is available. I find it annoying that they discriminate against me because I live in a small town whose cable provider doesn’t make it on to their list.

    Can you imagine a book or magazine seller simply blocking people from buying their content because they didn’t have a certain bookstore in their town? WHy does the medium rule the business model for the content?

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  3. Ok, so I am thinking about this. The key question is HBO and piracy. Obviously, if it is illegal to pirate content, than it is also immoral for the consumer. But we are not focusing here on the ethics of consumers, but of the organizations.

    Is it reasonable to ask if HBO is encouraging unethical behavior? If it chooses to not make content available for purchase, is it unethically encouraging a black market? This strikes me as the heart of the issue.

    For police, entrapment is illegal and immoral. A police officer can’t, fore example, ask you if you want to buy drugs or encourage you to and then turn around and arrest you. Can we somehow use this as an analogy for HBO? I realize it is imperfect, but is it reasonable?

    One of my favorite thinkers on law, society, media, and technology is Lawerence Lessig. I wonder if he has written on this. I know he has talked about how the current copyright regime encourages piracy. Code 2.0 is a book that addresses this idea. He has written lots else, too.

    This seems like a good approach. Maybe this is also about Kantian ethics in some sense? Or even Nozick? Like, the lack of innovation or pay options at HBO is trying to restrict or pattern what “liberty” would do on its own?

    In terms of policy, there are lots of issues you could look at. For example, much telecommunications policy for broadcast TV and radio came from the idea of the airwaves being a public resource. Cable is not. If all content shifts to private transmission systems, do we loose the media as public space? In general, the relationships between culture, content creators, users, and democracy are all in play. Again, Lessig, and others, are discussing this.

    Also, as I mentioned somewhere is the question of cable companies and channel bundling.

    Also, there are policy issues around monopoly-like power all over the place. Radio is super consolidated. So is TV, music, and movies. Do the big players push prices up or engage in un-competitive practices?

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