Just when I thought everyone in the media industries had their eyes clamped shut, their fingers in their ears and started chanting "DRM, DRM, DRM" whenever the topic of the digital revolution comes up, ABC-Disney's Anne Sweeney proved there is some sentient life in that sector after all. The following comments quoted in Ars Technica are so startlingly perceptive, open-minded, and forward-thinking it's hard to believe they came from the mouth of a media executive.
"So we understand piracy now as a business model," said Sweeney in a recent analyst call. "It exists to serve a need in the marketplace specifically for consumers who want TV content on demand and it competes for consumers the same way we do, through high-quality, price and availability and we don't like the model. But we realize it's effective enough to make piracy a key competitor going forward. And we've created a strategy to address this threat with attractive, easy to use ways to for viewers to get the content they want from us legally; in other words, keeping honest people honest."
That's a big change in philosophy from recent Big Media stances, which have included various forms of legal bullying and claims that owners of CDs don't have the right rip them for personal use. The realization that piracy is answering a market demand is particularly significant. To date, Big media has been in the business of dictating to consumers how, when, and where they may enjoy various forms of content. From programming schedules to theatrical release cycles to DVD region-encoding, they have carefully regulated the supply of their product in order to manipulate rather than respond to consumer demand. A shift to actually considering what viewers and audiences want would be a welcome change.
Interestingly, this new attitiude toward piracy sounds very similar to comments by Steve Jobs (in a recent interview in Newsweek) on Apple's philosophy in starting the iTunes Music Store:
Our core initial strategy on the store was that if you want to stop piracy, the way to stop it is by competing with it, by offering a better product at a fair price. In essence, we would make a deal with people. If they would pay a fair price, we would give them a better product and they would stop being pirates. And it worked.
Could it be that Disney's biggest stockholder has been lecturing in the board room?