Friday, November 01, 2013

How To Defeat Piracy and Conquer The Movie Industry With One Box

Some weeks ago, a friend of mine was tweeting about the crappiness of DRM and the movie industry. Well, actually I think all my friends have complained about this at one point or another. You know what the problem is (read anything by Cory Doctorow if you need more material).

Instead of chiming along as usual, I decided to counter with:
"Why don't you as a programmer come up with something better yourself?"
The discussion that ensued gave me an idea for a business/product that I'll share here. Feel free to steal the idea and build the "BetaBox"!
Imagine we built a solution for buying movies & series with all the problems of today's services removed. Imagine Hulu or Netflix, only with *all* movies and series, not just crappy old ones. It's not like Spotify is dominated by music from the 80-90's, and the newest songs are from two year's back, right?

Additionally, all content can be streamed or downloaded onto all your various devices. 

Now, the argument against building this service is that it won't float with the movie industry. They'll never allow downloading DRM-free files, and they won't release movies as early as they would hit the cinema, all in fear of losing revenue due to less people paying for cinema tickets, and broader piracy due to ease of ripping/copying.

However, I suggest that the movie industry hasn't moved to support downloading movies, for the simple reason that they can't be bothered. The majority of consumers don't want to deal with the collection of big movie files along with meta-data. Maybe you can be bothered, but my mom can not.

But what if you had a box with software that would just handle that for you, accompanied by apps for mobile devices and consoles?

Download once, and it would organize everything for you, and make it available for streaming to every device in your household. A bit like XBMC, only it is backed by a Netflix-like professional service, or rather several of them. You could also transfer files or cache for off-line viewing (bring the tablet in the car for kids watching a movie).

The BetaBox is portable, can run on car- or embedded battery power and doubles as a WiFi-router. So you bring it with you in your hotel-room, cabin in the woods, and so on.

The next challenge is to make this device useful before the movie industry agrees on supporting it. My solution for this is for the box to take in the movies you've already own. Rip them off CD's, DVD's and BlueRays. The industry has done what they can to make it illegal to rip DVD's and BlueRays, but this protection doesn't really make sense, and several countries (at least in Norway, I believe) it is allowed to rip DVDs and BlueRays for private use. In countries where ripping is not allowed, the feature would have to be disabled, but hopefully the public would rise to change these (rather nonsensical) laws over time. Maybe one could do something like iCloud's Match thing, where the BetaBox would recognize that you're rightfully own a movie (by inserting your disk), and after that you could just download it whenever.


Now, there are some open-ended questions like how to handle synchronization between multiple boxes, clustering, whether it should support copying movies from one box to another. The answers here should try to compromise for the happiness of the movie industry, I suppose. Should the concept of "renting" movies be implemented? Maybe.

Eventually, hopefully, the movie industry would have to buckle for the market, and would move to support it in order to maintain revenue, similar to what happened in regards to iPods/iTunes and Spotify. 

Of course, the concepts here are simplified, and the idea is rather utopian. But my point is that if we as engineers were able to build a concept that was so valuable and usable to all consumers that it would easily out-compete everything else on the market, the movie industry would eventually have to go along with it. And seeing how crappy the products out there are today, I think this is actually doable. 

Someone, please think this through properly, get it funded on Kickstarter and build me a BetaBox!