An Open Letter to Hollywood

Although SOPA and PIPA may be temporarily shelved, we all know that they’re going to come back in one way or another. It’s just a matter of time before one of those bills or an aspect of it slips through the cracks, and it’s all because Hollywood thinks we’re stealing their movies.

But pirating isn’t the problem. No, the reason why we aren’t buying your music, movies and TV shows is dangerously simple, yet no one is willing to do anything about it — with the rare exceptions like Apple being ignored by Hollywood. See, it all comes down to friction.

Dear Hollywood,

Hi there, my name is Kevin Whipps, and I consume your media. No really, I love watching movies, TV shows and the like. Whatever you do, I usually watch it, even the crappy stuff that no one likes to admit like reality shows and HSN. Thing is, it’s just not as convenient for me to do anymore, and you’re the reason why.

Let’s take the movies, for example. I used to go to 20 movies a year, at least one a month, because it was a great way to be entertained and was relatively affordable. Back then, $7 or $8 for a movie ticket wasn’t too bad, and if I hit a matinee, I was good at $5. Buy some popcorn and a drink, and I was in for under $20 a night. Not too bad when you’re a kid on a date.

But today, I can’t leave a movie theatre without paying $50. My wife and I both need to get in, and now tickets are over $10. Popcorn prices have been going up for years as has drinks, so now I’m paying even more for the same thing. I get into the theatre, and it’s the same experience I had 20 years ago — which would be fine, but my 1080P TV at home sure does look a lot better, and I don’t have to deal with Smokey McTextingpants in the next row live tweeting the event from his BlackBerry. Plus I’ve got to get a babysitter (and I understand that it’s not your fault that I decided to procreate), deal with that whole nonsense and in the end, it’s just not worth the cash. Too much friction.

Want Another Example?

Well how about TV shows? I have DirecTV, so if I want to watch a show, I do so. It was annoying enough when everyone decided to put their corporate logos in the corners of the screen, but I was watching Gold Rush on Discovery the other night, and an ad pops up on the bottom of the screen for Maker’s Mark, and it looks just like those annoying ads on YouTube. Seriously, let me be entertained for a bit.

But it gets worse when it comes time to buy a DVD. First I have to buy the thing, which involves a trip to the store, hunting down what I’m looking for and then plunking down the cash. Now try to find something rare (like the complete set of the best TV show ever, Fastlane), and you’re spending a few days pecking through the local Craigslist ads just to find something. Ridiculous.

And when we finally get the DVDs, we have to sit through five minutes of warnings, promos for new stuff that may be outdated by the time we bought the DVD and multiple FBI warnings just in case we want to steal it. And most of that stuff isn’t skippable, so you’re just stuck on the couch wasting your life away.

That’s Why Pirating Caught On.

Think about it like this: We all want to remove friction from our lives. Whether it’s an annoying aunt who always tries to poke her nose in your business or DVD intros, we don’t want to have to deal with the stuff that wastes our time. Going to the store and buying the movie? Well if it’s 2:30 am on a Tuesday, most places aren’t open so you’re left with dealing with the unwashed masses at Wal-Mart and hoping they have what you want. It’s just not convenient anymore.

Which is the big deal with pirating. It’s easy. You go online, look for what you want, and then download it — and yet, it still has some friction behind it. What if you’re downloading a virus? What if it’s a faked movie put there by the feds? What if you get busted? There’s enough to worry about there that I don’t do it, but I have friends who do, and they put in work to get this stuff for free. Again, friction.

There Is an Answer.

It’s funny, because the answer is right in front of you, and you’re screwing it up.

I haven’t bought a retail version of a DVD in years because if I don’t get it via Netflix, I download it from iTunes. Why? Again, friction. I pay $20 for an HD version of a movie and it’s in my living room within 20 minutes. That’s better than the pizza guy, and I don’t have to deal with his BO or debate whether or not to give him a tip or a handful of anti-bac soap.

And yes, I am paying for the movie. That’s fine! Contrary to popular belief, I don’t want to steal money from you guys. I understand that even though the actors and producers in movies may be wildly overpaid, there are thousands of people behind the scenes who aren’t — and they deserve their cut. I’m good with paying $10 for a movie from iTunes, because it’s often competitively priced. Even though technically it should be cheaper because I’m not getting anything physical that costs money to produce, I’m OK with that. Convenience equals less friction.

But You’re Still Screwing That Up.

Go ahead and look for a TV show on iTunes. Then look for the DVD pack at Amazon or something.Here’s what the pricing difference looks like.

If I buy it on iTunes:

$39.99 for Season 4 of 30 Rock

$39.99 for Season 4 of 30 Rock

And the same thing on Amazon:

$25.49 for the discs.

$25.49 for the discs.

Now, why would this be, when there is no physical product for the iTunes version, and yet there’s the cost of printing, packaging, stamping, etc. on the DVD version? Shouldn’t this example be flip flopped?

Of course, but you don’t want Apple doing to Hollywood what it did to music. People in that industry don’t have as much control over their income anymore, and since they were making fat stacks of cash, you don’t want to end up in their tax bracket. After all, you have payments on that home in the Hamptons to make.

So How Do You Fix It?

This one is pretty easy: Continue to sell things on iTunes and other online markets.

Now wait, you’re probably freaking out but listen to what I’m suggesting. With Apple, everything you sell gets you 70%. Now I know there’s contracts to work with and exclusive deals here and there, so maybe your numbers are different. But if you put everything you have into iTunes, then there’s more stuff for people to choose from, it will make you more money.

Think about it like this. Remember when VHS came out? Then LaserDisc? Then DVDs? Everyone bought their entire collection over again because of the new standard. This is the same thing. People will continue to buy their stuff all over again, but this time, you don’t have the production costs of stamping and making DVDs. Now it’s all servers and file storage, something you can handle in your sleep.

Besides, Apple sold 1.4 million AppleTVs this quarter, and are rumored to make a full-size television as well. Don’t you want to be in on that ride?

But don’t worry, there’s still money to be made in this arena. HD is the big thing now, but soon it’ll be 4K or 8K, and our puny HD movies won’t look so good on those fancy Samsung TV sets. Guess what? We’ll have to upgrade again. And in the process, you’ll make more money.

The way I see it, this is as win-win as you can get. The consumer gets the product easily and with minimal friction, you get paid for selling the product but save money on production and Apple gets an iTunes store packed with quality content. Who loses here? Not me, I’d be buying stuff left and right.

Look, I Know This Isn’t Going to be Easy.

You’ve got to deal with the studio execs who are notorious for being sticklers, and you’re essentially upheaving 100 years of standards. But if you don’t do something, the entire system is going to collapse on itself like a dying star. Every year, less and less good movies are coming out that have any kind of substance. For every Inception, there are three more Transformers movies following it up with their racist stereotypes and low-brow humor. We want to be entertained, not pandered to. And although I love most of the comic book movies that Marvel has done recently, I think we’ve done an awful lot with that genre at this point. There’s no need to remake Spider-Man.

But if you take away the friction from consumers, then we will buy your product. No one wants to go to jail because they pirated a copy of Glitter from a website, right? So let us buy your products and make it as clean and simple as possible. Remove the friction

There are lots of options: Amazon, Google, iTunes and so on — hit all of them as hard as you can. Flood the market with all of the movies you’ve done the past 100 years or so and make it awesome. Give us no reason not to buy your stuff, and don’t worry about DRM and all that crap — you’ll be adding friction because we can’t watch a movie on our BlackBerry Playbook and our iPad (OK, I can’t even type that without laughing. Who actually would buy a Playbook?). Make. It. Simple.

In the end, if you remove all the friction from our movie purchases, then you will make more money and we’ll all be happier.

Isn’t that what we all want?