Addendum: 14 November 2013
Guess what: now Luther is back on ABC, and lo-and-behold, it’s also available on iTunes. But only the episodes that have shown on the channel so-far.
The interesting thing is that this is what happens in iTunes when shows are being broadcast on TV. The difference here is that unlike something like Doctor Who, Homeland or Glee, the show isn’t being simulcast in different countries – that is, shown at the same time. Luther has been and gone on BBC Tv, according to the ultimate repository of all wisdom, Wikipedia, it finished showing in the UK in July 2013. So basically what’s happening in Australia is we’re being held hostage by broadcast TV. The excuse of “spoilers” and suchlike is easily refuted by pointing to the internet, where reviews of Luther series 3 have been available for months.
So what’s the benefit? ABC TV here in Australia is our equivalent of the BBC: it’s a public broadcaster so there’s no advertising revenue to use as an argument to keep this away from us.
I’ve been watching Luther on ABC’s iView system for the last few weeks and have been quite impressed with it. Although the storyline certainly takes some liberties with plausibility – Luther’s habit of going things alone when all he really needs to do is bring in his superiors is both in-character and mind-bogglingly idiotic at times. But I’ve actually enjoyed the characters and story lines. Ruth Wilson as Alice is a standout actor; I last saw her in The Prisoner remake , and in Luther she plays a very unsettling murderer who builds a sometimes bizarre relationship with Idris Elba’s John Luther.
The ABC has finished the first series of Luther, so I found a download for series 2 via Apple’s iTunes store. 4 hours later I’d finished that too (it’s only 4 episodes) and wanted to find out what happens next.
Here’s where things got interesting. Or bloody annoying. Pick one really.
Luther season 3 is not available on iTunes. I can get it as a DVD, but I’d prefer if possible to minimise physical items and get it as a download.
So I took a look at Amazon.
Amazon.com has Luther series 3 as a download for a mere $6US. That’s a complete bargain if ever I saw one. Clicking through to the terms and conditions, I’m confronted with endless legalese. I made the assumption that a downloaded video is a downloaded video, but my housemate suggested I check what I can play the video I’m going to pay money for and whether there’s a country restriction on it like DVD’s.
Amazon has rules on videos downloaded from the site which means they can only be played on specific devices and systems. Interestingly this information is not available on the download page for the show I want, and I had to go digging for it through Google. In short, I found out I can’t play it on my computer, merely iPad, iPhone and iPod touch devices.
So, like Apple just doesn’t list the series in Australia (potentially because a TV company has paid for the rights and doesn’t want anyone seeing it before they air it), Amazon restricts me to specific devices and a screen the size of my palm.
I’m sorry? Seriously? I want to give my money over to someone else in exchange for an item. If I was prevented from doing this in a physical marketplace, there would be harsh questions asked and a dialogue opened to the effect that it’s total rubbish.
Me: ‘So what you’re saying to me is that you do have this item but won’t sell it to me?’
Apple: ‘Yes. You have to be in a particular country.’
Me: ‘Yet you have episodes 1-3 on iTunes in the U.K.. We live in a global village now. You’re forcing me to go elsewhere for something you actually have in stock right now. This is why people pirate content: because they have tried to get it legitimately but are prevented from doing this because of arbitrary rules and illogical country restrictions. I can buy the DVD but I can’t get it as a download from you? Why is this?’
Amazon: ‘You can buy it from us! We have it!’
Me: ‘Yes I can, and for a bargain price. Except you won’t let me play the item on the device I want, despite my paying you money for it. I want to play it on my computer.’
Amazon: ‘You can play it on your iPad if you want! That’s a device!’
Me: ‘Certainly I can. And when the device gets full of content, then what? Can I shift it around? No! Your terms and conditions tell me I can only put the video on two devices and that’s it. I have an iPad and an iPhone with limited memory. If these get filled up, then what? Do I delete the content I’ve paid for and lose it?’
Amazon: ‘You should get a bigger iPad or iPhone then’.
Me: ‘Like Apple, you’re forcing me to do something that I don’t want to in order to see something that’s actually available. I can not download content from either of you because you’ve put restrictions on something that, if I bought the DVD, I would be able to play wherever I want. Unless of course, it’s zone-restricted, which is another related argument to this. Indeed, I’m actually being forced into a situation where my money is going to go elsewhere because of your meaningless constraints.
… and so-on.
I’ve yet to tell whether this is all because of the copyright owners or Apple/Amazon. The problem ultimately is that the copyright owners are actually reducing the money they will get because people will go to illicit means to get something that’s out right now, and they may or may not pay for the content later. If it was made available RIGHT NOW, people would buy it.
This is simple supply and demand – Keynes got it right back in the 1930’s – if there’s demand and no supply the price goes up. If there’s supply and no demand the price goes down. Right now, the copyright owners could be making money from all sorts of different directions by making content available internationally.
Think of it: making all your content available means you’ll get money straight away. It’s the same logic as legalising drugs: you cut-out the illicit trade by making it available legally and for a reasonable price. Copyright owners will get the money for their product directly and viewers get the product without delay. And if it’s freely available, you immediately remove the temptation to get the product through other means. Certainly there will always be people who won’t pay for something, but these will be the exception rather than the rule.
It’s a win-win.