America is not the greatest country in the world.

And with a straight face, you’re going to tell students that America’s so starspangled awesome that we’re the only ones in the world who have freedom? Canada has freedom, Japan has freedom, the UK, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Australia, Belgium has freedom. Two hundred seven sovereign states in the world, like 180 of them have freedom.

And you—sorority girl—yeah—just in case you accidentally wander into a voting booth one day, there are some things you should know, and one of them is that there is absolutely no evidence to support the statement that we’re the greatest country in the world. We’re seventh in literacy, twenty-seventh in math, twenty-second in science, forty-ninth in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality, third in median household income, number four in labor force, and number four in exports. We lead the world in only three categories: number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real, and defense spending, where we spend more than the next twenty-six countries combined, twenty-five of whom are allies. None of this is the fault of a 20-year-old college student, but you, nonetheless, are without a doubt, a member of the WORST-period-GENERATION-period-EVER-period, so when you ask what makes us the greatest country in the world, I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about?! Yosemite?!!!

We sure used to be. We stood up for what was right! We fought for moral reasons, we passed and struck down laws for moral reasons. We waged wars on poverty, not poor people. We sacrificed, we cared about our neighbors, we put our money where our mouths were, and we never beat our chest. We built great big things, made ungodly technological advances, explored the universe, cured diseases, and cultivated the world’s greatest artists and the world’s greatest economy. We reached for the stars, and we acted like men. We aspired to intelligence; we didn’t belittle it; it didn’t make us feel inferior. We didn’t identify ourselves by who we voted for in the last election, and we didn’t scare so easy. And we were able to be all these things and do all these things because we were informed. By great men, men who were revered. The first step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one—America is not the greatest country in the world anymore.

– Will McAvoy, The Newsroom

Christopher Dodd & the Dream of the 90s

The other night, in part to celebrate Internet Blackout Day, I watched about five episodes of Portlandia online at various digital locker site including (somewhat ironically) Megaupload. It wasn’t as straightforward as Googling Portlandia and clicking on one of a myriad of links which took me directly to a video – as Uncle Rupert would suggest – but it wasn’t all that tough either.

I do have my limits. I don’t download music, TV shows, movies, games, etc. illegally. I don’t use torrent sites or sites like Megaupload to download the assets to my computer. I’m a streamer – I only watch what people put up there. Maybe that’s morally a grey area, but hey.

The thing is, I don’t want to do even that. Before resorting to Megaupload and friends, I tried to find a 100% legit way to watch Portlandia but, living in Australia, I was pretty much screwed in terms of immediate gratification.

iTunes has Portlandia episodes… but only in the US store. You can get single episodes of Portlandia for $1.99 or all of Season 1 for $6.99 via Amazon Instant Video. Oh… sorry. “Due to location restrictions we cannot process your order. Amazon Instant Video customers must use a US credit card and billing address. Orders can only be completed by US residents while inside the United States – the 48 contiguous states, Alaska, Hawaii, and the District of Columbia.” Granted the Portlandia DVDs aren’t region restricted, but unless I wanted to pay for superfast shipping I’d be waiting about 4 to 6 weeks. I could wait to see if Foxtel ever picks it up (I’m sure none of the commercial networks would touch it) but with nothing in the press about it, it would be way longer than 4 to 6 weeks.

While we don’t have to wait as long (if at all) for the more successful or more mainstream shows, but shows that appeal to a smaller audience here in Australia often get doomed to purgatory. Wanted to watch Curb Your Enthusiasm when it was big in the States? You’d be up til 11 or 11.30, if you could figure out which night it was on in any given week. 30 Rock? Same thing. Channel Nine showed Season 1 of Community on their GO! network, but kept Season 2 in reserve. Which meant that for the longest time iTunes only sold the first few episodes of that season. Just in case, I guess so they’d theoretically have a larger audience. And Season 4 of Merlin? While that series aired recently on Channel 10, you still can’t buy it on iTunes (you could get each episodes of Seasons 1–3 about a week after they went on air here, so I’m not sure what changed).

Personally I wouldn’t care if I had to pay more than the US does to download something before it aired here, as long as I had the option (and it wasn’t exorbitant). I’m sure Amazon could serve me up a market-specific price, especially since they know exactly where I live. Could the profit from selling direct to regional users plus the increased profit due to fewer people consuming the content on the grey market (shall we say) be greater to or equal than the expected value of the profit from regional rights sales? I don’t know enough about the economics of this industry to say either way, but for some ‘long tail‘ properties it would most likely hold.

The media industry needs to stop trying to carve up the world into neat, compartmentalised slices. With the internet, we have more information about what’s great and what’s crap than we ever did, and we get it instantaneously. You can’t ‘manage’ launches and properties like you used to – if you try, your most interested consumers and customers will have already consumed your product by the time you work the deals to get it to them. And then you’re left with nothing but scale to save you, hoping that a lot of people who value your content less are still around to care.

Last night I downloaded a short documentary on street photography – it was great. I even bought it outright, though not through any service I’d ever heard of before. The movie was available for sale or rent through Distrify. It was a great experience. I watched the three minute trailer and decided I wanted to see the whole thing. So I could either spend $3.99 to rent it or $8.99 to buy it outright. I chose buy – $5 more wasn’t all that much and I got to support the work of a collective of artists that admired. After paying with PayPal I downloaded the MP4 file to my computer. That easy. Had I not had the option to ‘try and buy’ so easily, I would have been scoring Goggle to see if there were any places to watch it in full (without actually downloading it). The documentary is definitely a long tail kind of thing (I imagine its audience would be relatively small, but passionate and eager to consume media on the topic – at least I am!), and Distrify is a great long tail distribution method.

I’d hazard to guess that a large percentage of people who ‘steal’ media online would stop if there was an easy and cheap way to get it, especially amongst those living outside the US. Maybe that’s the agenda MPAA chief Christopher Dodd should be driving – an agenda of change and exploring/encouraging new business models – instead of making veiled threats to politicians who aren’t corrupt enough to stay bought.