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By: MarkJ - 20 October, 2011 (6:27 AM)
uk internet digital film statisticspirate flagThe Open Rights Group (ORG), which seeks to preserve and promote your rights in the digital age, has warned in a new study that any effort to force broadband ISPs into blocking websites that facilitate film (movie) piracy (here) will have only a minimal impact unless the root cause of poor digital price and availability is tackled first.

Leaving aside the fear that any attempt by an ISP to block internet websites could affect service performance, push up prices (here) and would be easy to circumvent. The new study simply looks at the legal alternatives and reveals some worrying problems with availability, video quality and price.
ORG Study - Short Summary

Poor availability

DVDs are available for just shy of 100% of the films. But a wealth of British cultural history is simply not available through legal providers. Only 43% of the top 50 British films can be bought or rented online. Similarly, only 58% of the BAFTA Best Film award winners since 1960 have been made available.

The situation looks worse if iTunes is discounted. Excluding iTunes, only 27% of the BAFTA award winners are available, with 29% of the best British films. Only 6% of the best 50 British films are on Film4 OD or Virgin Media, with 14% available through a LoveFilm subscription and 4% through pay per view on LoveFilm.

Availability is better for recent best selling releases, but it is still very patchy. Some 86% of the best selling films on Amazon.co.uk in August 2011 can be bought on iTunes, but only 63% on blinkbox. Rental services fare worse – 64% of the films are available to rent on iTunes, 18% are available on Lovefilm pay-per-view, 55% on blinkbox and 41% on Film4 OD and Virgin Media.

Price and quality

Digital prices do not compare favourably to those of DVDs. For the best selling DVDs from August 2011 the average price was £6.80. For iTunes purchases, of the films available through it's service, the average price was £8.88. For blinkbox purchases the price stood at £9.49.

The quality of films available online also does not compare well with physical media. Standard definition tends to be just short of DVD quality across the content providers. HD film purchases and rental are available on iTunes only, with 45.5% of the best selling DVDs from August available to buy (at an average of £11.59) and 40.9% to rent (at an average of £4.49).
It's also worth pointing out that the cinema continues to be the only place where people can view the very latest film releases, which is a shame when so many of us now have superior home solutions. Not that it isn't still fun to go out for a "big screen" experience but the cinema appears to have lost some of its edge.

Supply and demand is a key driving force for any industry and ORG suggests that the film industry has failed to learn from failings in the music business, which also took years to catch up with how consumers were accessing and using content.

ORG's Peter Bradwell said:

"Consumers have moved online faster than the film industry whose films they want to watch. They are being confronted with the equivalent of empty shelves. It is unsurprising that many people have found ways of discovering and watching films online from unofficial channels. Blocking all the sites that offer non-licensed content in the world – presuming this could be done successfully in practice – would not improve a consumers chances of buying a film online that is not for sale.

Presuming a decline in physical media sales, shifts towards digital consumption and device 'convergence', the availability of a broad digital catalogue of works at least comparable to that available on physical media will be vital in sustaining a bouyant film industry.

However the proportionality and necessity of enforcement measures can only be considered in a situation in which there is a compelling offering of legal services and a healthy market environment. Before damaging new enforcement measures are on the table, policy makers need to ensure that consumers' demand is being satisfied online."

The high cost of digital content also appears to neglect other factors. Every time you download something online it consumes bandwidth and some internet users have to pay extra for that or could even be penalised by their ISP for using too much.

Likewise the quality aspect isn't just an issue of High Definition (HD) availability versus Standard Definition (SD). Film downloads sometimes suffer from Digital Rights Management (DRM) restrictions that make it difficult to view them on other devices. In addition you often don't get access to the same extras as found on physical media, such as deleted scenes and "making of" documentaries' etc.

Many people in the UK are also still forced to use either a slow or restrictive broadband connection, which would make HD and sometimes even SD quality film downloads seem economically and or practically unviable. This aspect should at least improve over the next ten years but the demand already exists.

An ISPA Spokesperson told ISPreview.co.uk:

"ISPA welcomes research into the causes of copyright infringement and potential methods for increasing the revenues of rights holders. As the research shows, there should be more emphasis on ensuring content is available at a fair price and less emphasis on enforcement.

There is also the serious problem of licensing content for online providers which is causing the market to work ineffectively. ISPA would urge government to take this into consideration if implementing aspects of the Digital Economy Act."

In short, the overall value proposition often makes higher priced digital content seem less attractive. It takes a lot more effort and investment to download films online, which often appear to come with less than their physical media counterparts. Perhaps availability and price should be adjusted to more accurately reflect what consumers want and how they access it.

UPDATE 11:28am

Added a comment from the UK Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA) above.
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