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The New Auteur

Independent Film in Times of the Internet

Just read Sujewa Ekanayake’s post about Mark Cuban’s post on TV Everywhere. To quote Cuban:

many people think tv programming should be widely available for free on the internet. Of course the content is never free. Someone has to pay to create it and we purchasers of cable and satellite services pay the subscription fees that pay the content companies and allow them to create all that content. Someone always must pay for free. Its unfortunate that there are some incredibly greedy people who think their entertainment needs should be subsidized.

To be fair, I think Cuban talks about piracy (which is a nasty little habit of people with an interest in media products but without the necessary funds to pay for them). But I can’t help it and am always reminded of Chris Anderson’s new book when people talk about free entertainment online. I think that Mark Cuban (though being the boss of the coolest Basketball player) misses some things here:

  • I wrote about Anderson’s book before and can just repeat that there seem to be business models around giving things away for free. Direct payment is not the only possible income for entertainment products. When things are given away for free, they create new business opportunities (advertising, merchandise, live shows, superior products and so on – check out my earlier post for more examples). So free not always equals free. But, okay, let’s say that this is not so much for TV but rather a business opportunity for single entertainment products.
  • But even when looking at TV, we know that there is not only Pay-TV (in which case we directly pay for the content). But there is, and this is probably something rather European, also Free-TV, which is – like one can guess from its name – basically free. Money is earned through advertising or a license fees. Those things could also work when giving TV away for free online (though, I doubt that US TV will ever see license fees like we do in Europe). So, again, free doesn’t need to equal free.
  • One more remark about license fees: We have to face it that entertainment products, in a digital world, are public goods (we can’t exclude people from using it and owning/using a product doesn’t mean someone else can’t own/use it). Public goods create the chance to free-ride (in this case “piracy”). One way to deal with free-riding is a taxation system (this works in health care, defence, partially in public transport and education). License fees are just such a taxation system.

I don’t try to defend piracy (though it is also not right to absolutely condemn it either). But saying that direct payment is the only way of financing entertainment products is just wrong.

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