The Oatmeal published a comic on the topic of Big Content and the hypothetical conscience battle that is waged on the shoulders of those who contemplate and engage in that despicable modern practice we call digital piracy. I will not directly weigh in with my thoughts on the legality of piracy hereâ€”that has been discussed ad-nauseam, and you need to hear one more person say the same thing one more time like you need to puke the bile from your reeling stomach. But there is a point that came to mind as I read Andy Ihnatko’s rather confused response. I think The Oatmeal implied it, but Andy totally missed it. It is the reason we need the content, not in two weeks or three months or one year, but NOW! Socially there is value in seeing something that other people value, and, most importantly, seeing it when it’s hot. The news producing side of Big Content knows this so well they drive to the ends of the earth to get the scoopâ€¦first. Once a story becomes popular you can bet that every major news outlet will have their own take on that story, and not in two weeks or three months or a year, but NOW!
Content is only valuable in a social context. Let me rephrase that. Nothing you do has any meaning except in how it affects the people you relate to. Not one thing! You could make some pedantic argument about the more mundane parts of life such as what happens in the toilet, but really all that is done to support and sustain the primary purpose of life: relating to people. We humans construct and derive meaning in our lives through our relationships. When we stop relating we are dead.
So content is only valuable in a social context. Furthermore, social context is temporal. What is en vogue today will likely be out of style tomorrow. When I consume content, especially popular entertainment content like Game of Thrones, is immensely important. Aside: I hate TV, so I try not to spend my time watching it, but I’m not like most people, and I think my opinion on TV is irrelevant here. The point is that the content is more valuable to me if I watch it around the same time that my HBO-subscribing friend has seen it. Then we can have fun discussing our favorite parts over lunch. It’s possibly even more valuable if I watch it before she does. Then I get to talk about how great it is and how I think she really needs to watch it too. Soon. Before I’ve forgotten why I liked it. Technically, in doing this I am mediating a desire in my friend, which is a key part of the human relational dynamic. This is how we make meaning for ourselves and for each other.
The fact that Big Content companies think they can roll out these shows to their various markets on their own time-frame shows how they are totally clueless about what is happening in the world today. We live in a digital age where communications take seconds to cross the entire world. We’re well beyond the 1970’s when carefully planned phased release schedules were acceptable. Previously geographically distant markets had little or no knowledge of what other markets were seeing. The members of those markets, even if they knew what was playing half a world away, certainly had no way of easily getting that content. Today it is different. A kid in New York can record a TV episode with his DVR and send it to Hong Kong the very same evening. Big Content has a lot of catching up to do to compete with that type of availability.
You see, there is just no way people will wait anymore. The value of having the content now is too high, and the value of having it later is dwindling fast. If everybody is talking about it today, it will be irrelevant by the time HBO releases it for online streaming in two weeks or three months or a year.