Bounty Hunters and Pirates

November 19th, 2019

Vice has a story about how the fragmentation of the streaming video market is driving people back to piracy to get their fix. It focuses a lot on the cost of having all the streaming services —welcome back to the cable era— but it has less to say about a major issue with streaming services: different launch dates and offerings by country.

As a Star Wars fan in Singapore my only option to watch The Mandalorian before the internet shoves terabytes of spoilers in front of my eyes is to pirate it. There is no official launch date for Disney+ in Singapore yet. What the fuck house house of mouse? I understand the level of technical complexity to rolling out global services on this scale. Netflix only conquered the world a few years ago but it suffered for many years from VPN leakage. And Hulu and other streaming services still don’t have global offerings. Maybe a VPN will work for D+?

A major part of the issue with most streaming services is how content has always been distributed. It complicated but in general studios make a show and its purchased (before or after being made) by a distributor who, well, distributes it. In the old days it was distributed physically, with rolls of film shipped around. Back in high school the older brother of a friend was the manager of a local theater and the amount of money they spent to rent the reels of film for a new movie was crazy. I understand why the popcorn and coke is so expensive, I suspect that even with digital distribution the cost didn’t go down… just more profit.

Under this physical distribution model it took a lot of layers of middlemen to get content around the world. And contracts were put in place. As new distribution technology and new touch points with consumers emerged the same model was used. So someone could own the broadcast rights to a move and someone else the digital distribution and someone else the physical distribution (DVDs). And of course exclusivity of a popular title meant more money. Back when music streaming and download was the big battleground another friend was in charge of the Nokia “comes with music” product where Nokia bundled a year of streaming with your phone. He had a small army of lawyers working for most of a year to get the required rights contracts in place, just for Singapore!

Now Disney is the owner of it’s own content, and the distributor via Disney+. So why can’t I watch The Mandalorian in Singapore?

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