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Mistake Shows Need for Clear Communication in Piracy Discussions

BusinessWeek recently took a look at the new generation of Web content recognition systems, and right up front the article illustrates one of the essential problems with current piracy discussions: conclusions and misinterpretations fueled by emotion and ambiguity.

In this case, the incorrect conclusion was mine. It began with this passage:

For a media executive, the appeal of a content recognition system is clear. With a glance, a publisher or studio head can plainly see where, when, and how their content is being viewed. In a demonstration for BusinessWeek earlier this year, Attributor executives showed how many times scenes from “The Sopranos” had appeared on 20 leading video sites since they first aired on TV. In all, 1,500 scenes from 52 episodes had been viewed 32 million times. For Time Warner’s (TWX) HBO, those viewings might have brought in more than $1 million, said Attributor Chief Executive Officer Jim Brock. [Emphasis added.]

The $1 million figure pushed my buttons. Brock was using piracy fears and unsubstantiated figures to further an agenda … or so I thought. The author of the article, Peter Burrows, clarified the $1 million figure in a reply to an email I sent: It turns out that Brock was estimating revenue from advertising that did, or could have, run next to the “Sopranos” clips. I’m glad I asked, because there’s a big difference between an overlooked opportunity and outright theft.

If we’re talking about missed revenue from advertising rather than more inflammatory lost revenue from piracy, then we can further the discussion to advertising-based opportunities and solutions. But if a big figure is thrown out and there’s no sense of where it comes from or how it applies, the discussion invariably turns emotional — i.e. “we’re losing money to pirates!”, or in my case “more piracy doublespeak!” An exec informed of a $1 million missed opportunity tends to react differently than someone suffering from a $1 million theft (measured analysis vs. scorched-earth cease and desist campaigns).

This example, including the clarification, showcases the importance of clear communication when dealing with an inherently murky topic like piracy. As we’ve noted previously, piracy is not clear cut. It’s natural to condemn the moral and financial violations of content pirates, but outright dismissal could obscure publicity or branding opportunities that yield better long-term results than Draconian countermeasures. Alternative perspectives should at least be considered before lawsuits are launched … and you need reliable information to reach useful — and correct — conclusions.

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  • bowerbird

    it’s still a phony number.

    it assumes that people will _watch_ those clips
    even if they have advertising attached to them.

    wrong. think again, corporate clowns…
    we’re sick to death of your advertising.

    when bloggers post your clips, it _is_ an ad, an ad
    for the show. don’t get greedy, leave it at that…

    -bowerbird

  • http://www.magellanmediapartners.com Brian O'Leary

    HBO subscriptions gained or lost might be a more valid assessment of the impact of unauthorized distribution. This particular cable network makes its money by gaining and keeping subscribers. Designing a controlled experiment that tracked the purchase behavior of HBO subscribers and non-subscribers after seeing free clips would yield data that better establishes the impact of this particular form of piracy.

    Having acquisition and retention data would also help better assess the $1 million ad value “lost” or foregone by HBO. If the goal is to maximize subscription revenue, deliberate distribution of short-form video clips is a valid promotional option. If the network gains subscribers while allowing some other web sites to earn ad revenues, it can reasonably assess how much it would have spent to market its clips to a comparable number of targets. That’s a savings, in all likelihood.

  • http://www.attributor.com Rich Pearson

    Great point and duly noted on the need to clarify all revenue estimates for future interviews – disclosure in that I work for Attributor

    One of our objectives is to change the conversation from “piracy” to “lost opportunity”. We’ve found that most publishers embrace this as soon as they see they can capture some value from content re-use.

    Whether its advertising-based or link opportunities that drive search traffic, there is a huge need for alternatives that do not default to a litigious outcome.