Paying for entertainment: Somebody has to do it

The moment I saw the badgers, I knew Tony was a dead man. I shouldn’t have known. It should have been a surprise. But that’s the problem with missing the original broadcast of a television show. The longer you wait to watch it, the greater the chance that something or someone is going to come along and spoil it for you. Glance at the wrong newspaper, overhear the wrong conversation, go anywhere near the internet and the season finale of Breaking Badgers is ruined.


But sometimes you have to wait. Sometimes geographical and financial limitations prevent you from watching the original broadcast. If you live outside of the United States like I do, it happens all the time. And it sucks. Not only does it leave you susceptible to spoilers, it also denies you the simple pleasure of experiencing and discussing the latest television developments while they’re fresh in the public consciousness. By the time you catch up, the cool kids have already moved onto the next new thing. They just roll their eyes at you and make fun of your shoes.


I’d love it if I could legally download a digital copy of any television show or movie from the exact moment of its original broadcast or theatrical release. I’d love it if those downloads were reasonably priced, and simultaneously available in every country around the world. I’d love it if I could easily view them upon, and copy them between, any of my various new-fangled media devices. Unfortunately, the world doesn’t quite work like this at the moment. It feels like we’re stumbling in the right direction, but who knows how long it will take us to get there.


In the meantime, I’ll continue to pay for my entertainment, even if I’m not getting absolutely everything I want out of the experience. I know I could enjoy almost all the benefits that I’m looking for by downloading stuff illegally, but I’d rather not go down that path. Refusing to pay for the entertainment that I consume feels like refusing to feed my cow but continuing to drink its milk. The first few glasses will be fine, the next few will leave a bad taste in my mouth, and eventually I’ll find myself sucking on a corpse, wondering what went wrong. I never want to find myself sucking on another corpse so I pay for what I watch.


And it’s not just about supporting the entertainment industry in general. I specifically want to reward and encourage people who make the kind of entertainment that I like to watch. By paying for something, I’m casting a vote for more things like it to be produced in the future. If I refuse to pay, I surrender my vote, leaving my viewing destiny in the hands of the people who do keep paying. And just think about the kinds of people who are continuing to pay for entertainment at a time when it’s so easy to get it for free. People who are scared of computers. People with strong moral values. The elderly. Do we really want people like that deciding what kind of entertainment gets created?


For the most part, paying to watch stuff means handing over my money to a heartless corporation for something that was created by sensitive artists. And I’m OK with that. Really. The heartless corporation took the financial risk. It seems fair to me that the heartless corporation should receive the financial reward. After all, it’s heartless corporations who are ultimately responsible for putting television shows and movies in front of our eyeballs. If we relied on sensitive artists to organise the production and distribution of all artistic content, we wouldn’t be watching big-budget action spectaculars on our phones. We’d still be listening to stories around the campfire. And it would be a mediocre campfire. With crappy, organic marshmallows.


I feel like I’m doing the right thing by supporting the entertainment industry, but if the industry does eventually provide the affordable, convenient and timely downloads that I’ve been hoping for, it won’t be because of people like me. It will be because of all the people out there who have been watching stuff without paying.


Content providers wouldn’t be rushing to change the game if we all kept playing by their rules. When you download something illegally, it sends them a message, and that message is what’s driving a lot of the positive change.


But don’t go awarding yourself a knighthood just yet. For most people, sending a message to the entertainment industry is just a fortunate by-product of an act whose primary purpose is to get free stuff. Not watching the content at all would be a much nobler way to send the same message. A strongly worded letter explaining exactly why you’re boycotting their product, and what they could do to win back your business, would send a very clear message indeed. But that kind of sacrifice is probably too much to expect out of human beings, especially in a world where many now think of entertainment as one of life’s necessities, and would be surprised to find that the right to watch the new “Batman vs Predator” movie is not inscribed upon the Magna Carta.


While digital piracy may not be the purest form of protest, it is a fairly effective one. It does give content providers incentive to change. Without it, we’d almost certainly be progressing at a slower pace, if we were progressing at all. To ensure a smooth transition to a new distribution model, however, some people are going to have to keep paying. Sure, we could all withhold payment until the heartless corporations cede to our demands. We could burn the whole system down, and rebuild a beautiful utopia from the ashes. But would they keep making Game Of Thrones during the revolution? Probably not. And I don’t know if I want to live in that world.


So here’s the deal, pirates. I’ll keep making strategic payments to ensure that all of our favourite shows remain on the air, you keep poking at the heartless corporations with your righteous cattle prod of copyright infringement, and together we’ll keep this entertainment revolution civilised.


Sound good to you? Sounds good to me. You guys like Two And A Half Men, right?


One Response to 'Paying for entertainment: Somebody has to do it'

  1. Fernando says:

    I agree that this is a new Golden Age of TV although I’d go even frhtuer and say that this age is even *more* golden than the 70s-80s. I’ve recently revisited some of those classic shows and, well, they don’t always stand the test of time. Honestly, try watch M*A*S*H without vomiting because of the incessant laugh track.On the other hand, I’m confident that many of this age’s television Sopranos, Game of Thrones, etc. will be able to stand that test. (I would mention Arrested Development, except that I’m in the midst of watching season 4, and so far it’s falling flat on its face.) The quality of production, acting and writing on these shows surpasses many old shows, as well as many theatrical movies. These shows also succeed because they rely on the audience’s intelligence, rather than pandering to the lowest-common-denominator.Thanks for another great show, guys (though I have to debate Drew that Iron Man 3 sucked sure, it wasn’t as good as it should have been, but it wasn’t as purely bad as, say, Dante’s Peak.)

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