Release Windows ARE Stupid … But They Don’t Justify Piracy

Most people know of the popular trope called ‘Step Three: Profit’, in which an idea is started, no plan is developed, but there is an expectation of profit in the end. A random example from South Park:

Step 1. Collect underpants.
Step 2. ?
Step 3. PROFIT

The reason I bring that up is that in a recent article at MondayNote the author basically makes the point that release windows are stupid. What is a ‘release window’? It is the decision by a company to make their content (movies, TV shows, albums, etc) available at different times in different countries – and within a given country to hold off release in some formats to favor more profitable formats.

Some examples are pushing DVD sales (~$15) over RedBox rentals (~$1) by holding off RedBox for 28 days, or artists like Taylor Swift releasing exclusively to places like iTunes (digital) and Target (physical) and not releasing to streaming sites such as Spotify to maximize profits.

This is not news – both Doug and I have written about this several times over the years. So in short, we agree with much of what is said in the article. And you should really read it, because it details the entire release window silliness very well.

The problem is this line:

Then, on September 30th, when season 2 started over, I would have had no alternative to downloading free but illegal torrent files.

To me this is that ‘Step Three: Profit’ idea all over again. Let me do the quick map:
1. Cool TV show I want
2. Not on iTunes (or Amazon, etc)
3. Piracy!

Am I debating that this is what DOES happen? No – we all know this happens frequently. Heck, ‘step 3’ happens even when ‘step 2’ isn’t true! Piracy is rampant in the age of broadband, and as we have seen with $0.99 apps it has little to do with money.

The major issue I have is the attitude that by not being immediately available when the author deems it should be, he is ‘forced’ into piracy. That is a ridiculous argument, and simply wrong. That is just not the way the world works – and as I have said many times, if the lack of instant gratification leads you directly to theft (or infringement), then you were already there before asking the question.

But the author looks at the situation as being the same as those other ‘release windows’. I would argue that it is more like the delay between a theatrical release and DVD. These are different business models.

Here are a few thoughts:
– The author watched the first season of Homeland in August, meaning 11 months after it aired and after it was released on DVD at higher price. In other words, he was able to exercise considerable patience initially, but now … piracy.
– The core argument seems to be that the producers should accept SOME money now rather than piracy. That misses the reason for the delay.
– He also totally misses that one of the big reasons for the quality of programming on HBO and Showtime is that they are subscription-based services linked to a cable subscription. That brings in loads of money (~$180 annually from those who keep the channels year-round). Also, CBS owns showtime and several other basic and premium cable channels, and HBO’s parent company has loads of cable networks – so they work together and with cable networks to earn loads of money … and thereby can invest in quality programming.
– The main thing missed is that the author could simply subscribe to Showtime and watch the show (if the station is available to him). The reason for the release window is that Showtime wants you to subscribe to their network. For ~$15 a month you get homeland and much more – but of course you also need to subscribe to cable, which is another rationale.

What I think would be interesting is something similar to what some movies have done recently – pre-theatrical releases. If you aren’t familiar, you can see some movies on iTunes or Amazon for a $9.99 24-hour rental before (or simultaneous to) the theater showings.

Imagine if as a ‘cord cutter’ you could watch Homeland the same night (or even 24-hours later) than those on Showtime … but it would require a season subscription for $100-150. This would cover the normal Showtime subscription and also a ‘cable kickback’ and a premium over the course of the 3-month season. The bottom line is that the pricing would have to be high enough to allow this a la carte choice to earn enough to supplant the cable subscription model.

Would you be interested in this? Would it work? Chime in with your thoughts!

Categories: Editorials, News, Rants and Raves

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1 reply

  1. Where I get confused with the delay on content from premium channels like HBO is why they delay so long before releasing. For example, “Game of Thrones” season 1 wasn’t available until just a week or two before Season 2, a delay of nearly a year. Similarly, Season 2 is not available as of yet; I suspect they will follow a similar pattern, and release it a week or two before Season 3 broadcast. Would an earlier release, a month or two after the original broadcast (a delay similar to the theater->electronic release for movies) be doable? That just seems odd.

    Another area of confusion (that I’ve mentioned before) is films being available in electronic format on iTunes (or wherever), and then simply disappearing, and then suddenly reappearing. Unlike the fairly predictable delay between when a movie is released theatrically and when it shows up online (1-4 months after it leaves the theaters), this “remove and put back” cycle seems totally random.

    As an example, the first “Sherlock Holmes” movie (with Robert Downy, Jr.) came out electronically a few months after the theatrical release. Then, a number of months after that, it simply disappeared from iTunes. Then, a few weeks prior to the release of the sequel, it suddenly reappeared. I suspect–and others have opined–that this has something to do with the broadcast TV release of the film, to encourage you to watch it on TV, but from a consumer POV, it just seems random.

    I think if “windows” were consistent and predictable, most people would be okay with them. Right now, the variance and seeming-randomness makes it hard to deal with. IMO.