Favorite movies, and shows – just download an app of choice, add your card, pay a relatively small monthly fee for a subscription, and voila – now you can watch Season 4 of Cobra Kai or rewatch Game of Thrones from the comfort of your living room or on your daily commuter to the office. It sounds great, isn’t it? If so, why are so many people around the world still pirating content? And according to MUSO, the number of Digital pirates is growing on a Y-o-Y basis: in the 1H of 2021 traffic to piracy sites grew 20%, compared to the same period in 2020, with Ukraine – my home country, closing TOP-5 of “piracy fans”. On the surface, it might appear that people would always strive for free stuff, even though it’s a “forbidden fruit”, but the root of a problem lies deeper than it seems, and users, who tolerate watching pirated stuff might be just a tip of an iceberg of a greater problem that all of us might soon face.
The roots of evil
Imagine: it’s the early 2000-s, and you’re living in Ukraine. Accessible and relatively fast Broadband internet is moving across the country, but the content lags… Local TV channels flooded with soap operas and police procedurals, and first seasons of some popular American TV shows, Netflix is still renting DVDs, iTunes Store is not yet available in Your country, YouTube is still in its early days, and other video-on-demand (VOD) services are almost non-existent… But the vacant spot couldn’t stay unoccupied for long. And where legal services are not yet available – there will be hundreds (if not thousands) of Torrent trackers that let you watch a new season of the show you like or open up something new. Wait, you don’t speak any foreign language? No worries, there will be plenty of studios and independent translators, that are ready to translate and do the voice acting for your favorite TV series. Although the quality varied from “Legen… Wait for it… Dary” to ridiculously bad, you can still hear many of these familiar voices now, working for respectable legal content providers.
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Why this period is so important? Because then piracy was a necessary evil. At first glance it helped to develop a bad habit of not paying for the product of someone’s hard job, on the other hand – there was nobody to pay for, as official channels were simply unavailable. Another “positive” side of piracy at this stage was that it has shown that there’s a demand for high-quality foreign content that has to be localized to appeal to a local consumer. All this in some way “helped” to build the ground for the content market we know now: with channels and content providers fighting to bring you the latest episodes of your new TV series, with a wide variety of VODs to choose from comprised of local and big international players, and the content available at a language you can understand.
Rise of the legal services
As we move to the 2010s – the internet becomes even faster and widely available, VOD services gaining momentum as TV viewership is on the decline. Now there’s no need to wait for reruns of FRIENDS on the TV or download the whole seasons from iTunes – there’s a cool service available, called Netflix, that used to rent DVDs not so long ago. Now, you can watch the shows and movies whenever you want to, streaming right to your device of choice with no need to buy them separately – everything is available at a flat monthly fee. What a great deal! TV channels and studios also paid attention to Netflix, and the so-called “Netflix effect”. It turns out when the show is available to Binge-watch on demand – it can greatly expand the total audience, and, as a result, TV viewership. That’s what happened with Breaking Bad during its 4th season, and now TV channels & studios seeing Netflix and other VODs as a lifebuoy, making more and more content available on the services. Combine it with the international expansion of likes of Netflix and Amazon’s own Prime Video – you have a great combination to fight piracy! Now there IS a way to pay for the content legally, and fortunately, the price is relatively low – from $7,99 to $11,99, depending on the quality and number of devices you’re using it (yes, it has increased over the years, but still lower than buying a season of the TV show at $19,99). And if you don’t like Netflix for one reason or another, there’s Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, and others available to you. It could have been an end of the story, but where’s big money involved and a success story available, it’s always going to be competition.
Being original comes at a price
Netflix is also crucial to this chapter, as much as like TV channels back in the day it decided that it’s more than just a platform to stream someone else’s content. Since 2013 Netflix is producing original content, and now it has become the largest investor in the content, with spendings in 2021 estimated at $5,21 Bln.
Don’t you think that large studios and media conglomerates would allow Netflix to reign the streaming market? So now we have plenty of streaming services that produce original content: Amazon Prime with the Award-winning collection of original movies and hit series such as The Boys, and let’s not forget about the upcoming big-budget Lord of the Rings series; HBO Max with a collection of Warner Brothers movies streaming at the same day as they were released in the Movie theaters (at least, that was a thing in 2021) and a huge number of original series, like an upcoming spin-off of James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad, called The Peacemaker; there’s also Disney+ which is now a home for a Marvel & Star Wars-themed content and many more. And by creating their own VOD services, studios take away their content from Netflix, first – in the US, but with expansion to international markets, it could happen in your home country as well. So if you were saddened by the sudden cancelation of Marvel’s Daredevil original series or by removal of FRIENDS from US Netflix – brace yourselves as more things like this will likely happen in the future.
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So if you are like me and your favorite movies and shows are scattered around different services be ready to shell out the big buck. Let’s imagine that you’re mostly satisfied with Netflix, but also want to check this The Peacemaker TV series from James Gunn, and the Book of Boba Fett, and that big-budget The Lord of the Rings series… That will cost you $8,99 for Netflix + $9,99 for HBO Max + $7,99 for Disney+ + $12,99 for Amazon Prime for a total of $39,96 and that if you don’t mind SD streaming on Netflix and ads on HBO Max. Add a good VPN price for this if you’re outside of the US or other countries where all these services available and improve your foreign language skills if you don’t speak English or any of the languages supported by all these services. I don’t even mention that all the services require separate apps and a supported device. So if you are unfortunate enough like me to have Xiaomi’s Mi TV 4S for the Ukraine market – good luck trying to run Netflix on it. But there’s a solution to this… And you might not like it.
Piracy strikes back
What if I tell you that there’s a way to watch almost all of your favorite shows and movies in one place, from almost any device, in the language you understand, and almost at no cost at all? Welcome back to an underworld of piracy. While Netflix and others were busy creating new content and negotiating the rights, pirate services have grown from a bunch of divided torrent sites to a VOD-empire of its own, with multiple mirrors and backup plans, HD-quality streaming, and a day-1 translation to your local language. And despite combined efforts of studios and law enforcers to bring pirates to justice – like a Hydra, on a place of one closed pirate service, multiple new ones would appear. And it’s not just a bunch of poorly-made websites, with tonnes of ads from shady betting services everywhere (including in the video itself), there are even “premium” services, offering 4K HDR ad-free streaming, translation to your language of choice, user-friendly interface, and availability on a wide variety of devices (yes, including Apple devices) at a hilariously low price: one such a service offers 6 months subscription for a price of a cheapest Netflix plan in the US.
But the main advantage of this shady path lies in the fact that Piracy is indifferent to Big Studios’ ambitions. And in a service like this, you can find Warner Brothers production next to a Disney+ title – all in one place. The only thing that matters is a quality of a Movie/Show itself and your free time. Like a good all days where everything you needed was on Netflix, regardless of the studio that produced it.
All this leads to a very funny situation, where competition and the desire of big studios to grab their piece of a streaming pie is forcing people to turn to piracy because they can’t get the service they want to legally. Imagine that to stream your favorite music – you should change the streaming service/app and buy a separate subscription for this – and that’s for every major artist or song you would like to hear. It is horrible to imagine – but that’s what you have to deal with if you’re into streaming video.
Is there a better way?
OK, streaming is complicated, but if you don’t want to finance shady betting services and online casinos, and want to support creators you love – there is still hope out there
While we’re already leaving in a subscription economy it is very unlikely that we’ll get rid of the growing number of subscriptions. But what we can do is to optimize our experience in 2 key areas:
- Easily navigate your current subscriptions and watch content in one place
- Spend less, while receiving more content
The first one is relatively easy to achieve. Amazon Prime and Apple TV offer a channels tab where you can add your subscriptions to services like Starz or Showtime and many more, and watch them through one app instead of a ten. However, there’s a catch, even a few catches:
- Each channel is an additional subscription of its own, which means that your total bill is unlikely to get Smaller or cheaper;
- The list of channels depend on your region, and while US users can enjoy Showtime or Starz channels, there’s only a handful of cooking channels available in Ukraine – get used to it or use VPN;
- That also means no localization for such videos;
- Regardless of the region, you’re in, you won’t find a channel for Netflix or Disney+ – unless Apple or Amazon could negotiate the terms with the other two and add them.
But no worries! Where big bad services could not find a common ground come to a 3rd party services that can help you consolidate your watching library and help you not to get lost in the content you love: JustWatch and ReelGood and their likes are available on many platforms and do just that. ReelGood is also available absolutely for free, with no in-app purchases. The only significant downside for both services is regional availability – both are unavailable in Ukraine and does not support local VOD providers, and yes, all the content is streamed from the respective services, so if it’s unavailable in your country or not localized to your language of choice – there’s no way to do so. But if your primary location is the US or you don’t mind using VPN – give one of these services a try.
So, you’ve found a perfect place to watch all your favorite shows and movies. But what about saving some buck? There’s no easy answer to this question but there are a few ways to pay less for more:
- Check the services you already use, like your internet or cellular. You may find that for a small additional fee or for no additional money spent they offer some tier of VOD service, just like Verizon does with their unlimited plans;
- If you’re living outside of the US, and HBO Max or Paramount+ is not available here, your local VOD provider likely has the most popular shows and movies available through the deals they struck with these services. Hey, it might also be that some shows are available on Netflix, as it still holds the international distribution rights like it is true for FRIENDS or Star Trek: Discovery. And yes, usually this option comes with a localized price tag, that might be cheaper than the one for the US;
- Family plans are a big deal: while services may tell you that family should be a group of people living in the same household, as of now, there’s no way to enforce this rule. And you might find a friend or family member well outside of your home country or the one that uses a good VPN. Splitting a budget for a family subscription can be a good way for all of you to save some money.
A room for improvement
While you’re dealing with all your subscriptions or pirating your content (no judgment). We can imagine a perfect world where you can easily and at an affordable cost watch everything that you want to. And here are some ways how the situation can change to better:
- Extension of a “channel” function to add the movies and shows you like to your favorite services – it’s easy to imagine that the race for consumer’s money will force all the major players in the field to join forces for everyone to get their slice of a pie – as a royalty or as a subscription fee;
- A 3rd party service that would not just be a search engine and a tracker, but a middleman that will help you to subscribe only for movies and shows that you want to watch for a commission to an original service provider.
As of now, let’s hope that all the imperfections of the current market won’t break the experience of watching your favorite content and that this experience will become even better in the future!