Illegal streaming holds the media industry in check

April 23, 2019

What happened?

After years of decline, BitTorrent filesharing has made a comeback. This, most probably, implies that consumers are, once again, resorting to illegal downloading (and streaming) instead of paying to watch favorite movies, series and sports events. The common explanation for this points to the fragmentation of high-value content across several subscription services and consumers’ refusal to pay for each of these. Ironically, the initial success of these platforms in terms of subscription revenues and combatting illegal downloads has attracted new entrants who are, unwillingly, pushing consumers back onto the digital black market.

What does this mean?

Free content is inscribed in the internet’s DNA. In its early days, the lack of practical payment methods implied that practically everything was for free and, in the late 1990s, the resulting everything-for-free mindset also extended to music and video that became available online through sharing platforms such as Napster. This led to an arms race between developers of p2p platforms and rights holders, until streaming platforms with well-stocked libraries (e.g. Spotify and Netflix) offered a sound alternative. Today’s comeback of p2p sharing shows that consumers still have the means, hence the power, to reign in, for example, the music and film industry when they fail to come up with sensible offerings. Today, this works against over-fragmentation, but it could also work against monopolistic behavior in the case of strong consolidation of streaming video platforms in the future.

What's next?

P2P sharing can be regarded as an antifragile system that has become stronger under external stress. From its semi-centralized origins (e.g. Napster), it has now become fully decentralized (e.g. BitTorrent), which shows how, contrary to popular belief, a decentralized system can actually be quite practical and that a user-friendly interface can be built on top of it (e.g. Stremio). Clearly, there’s something about free music and video that makes developers and consumers willing to leave the beaten track of the otherwise centralized internet. Still, the case of p2p sharing also implies that consumers may eventually embrace a broader decentralization of the internet (e.g. in search of more privacy-friendly services) when big tech fails to address concerns over users’ rights.

Series 'AI Metaphors'

1. The Tool
Category: Objects
Humans shape tools.

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Thus we place our faith in tools, acknowledging that they are mere reflections of our own capabilities. In them, there is no entity to venerate or fault but ourselves, for they are but inert extensions of our own being, inanimate and steadfast, awaiting our command.
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2. The Machine
Category: Objects
Unlike a mere tool, the machine does not need the guidance of our hand, operating autonomously through its intricate network of gears and wheels. It achieves feats of motion that surpass the wildest human imaginations, harboring a power reminiscent of a cavalry of horses. Though it demands maintenance to replace broken parts and fix malfunctions, it mostly acts independently, allowing us to retreat and become mere observers to its diligent performance. We interact with it through buttons and handles, guiding its operations with minor adjustments and feedback as it works tirelessly. Embodying relentless purpose, laboring in a cycle of infinite repetition, the machine is a testament to human ingenuity manifested in metal and motion.
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