‘It’s like picking up Rupert Murdoch’s dropped wallet’

Panel of young consumers speaking candidly at the PEVE conference

By Ray Bennett

Lots of so-called experts claim to know what young people think about entertainment these days, but a panel at Screen Digest’s recent PEVE Digital Media Conference in London provided some genuine insight. Describing how they consume screened entertaintment, six anonymous twentysomethings left the industry audience intrigued, surprised and appalled.

Downloading an illegal copy of a movie on the internet is not like stealing somebody’s handbag, “It’s like picking up Rupert Murdoch’s dropped wallet.”

• “I don’t like to own a DVD or Blu-ray Disc. I prefer to have films on my iMac.”

• “Windows mean nothing to me. I download a film illegally and there’s no limit to where or when I can see it.”

• “I don’t care if the computer crashes and I lose a film. I just download it again. I don’t need a tacky plastic box hanging around.”

• “I pay to go to the cinema. Why should I have to pay again?”

• “I try not to buy DVDs as a gift … it’s a bit of a rubbish gift.”

• “3D is a massive leap, really impressive. Not so sure about the glasses.”

Those were some of the opinions expressed by four young men and two young women on a consumer panel sponsored by the Digital Entertainment Group Europe at the PEVE Digital Entertainment conference in March. Professionally recruited, the six anonymous panellists were selected to represent a range of consumers with two males who confessed to downloading illegally; a man who rents films from Blockbuster and goes to the movies; a man who’s a big fan of Blu-ray; a female Lovefilm subscriber and a woman who downloads legally.

Moderators Jonathan Beardsworth, DEG Europe’s New and Emerging Technologies Taskforce Chairman, and Jason Kramer, Vital Findings Founder and Managing Director, put the questions, which touched on everything from viewing habits to format preferences and the panellists’ willingness to pay. Or not.

A web designer from London introduced only as Jonathan 1 was one who prefers to take his movies for nothing. “I tend to watch a movie once unless it’s a really special movie. And I don’t really need a tacky plastic box hanging around my house either. I prefer to have it on a hard drive and that’s that,” he said.

Rob, who said he works in recruitment, also likes his entertainment free of charge: “I like to own a film because I like to be able to watch it whenever I like, but to me owning it is being able to watch it, not necessarily having a DVD or something on the shelf.” Rob said he used to buy DVDs: “But I realised that I could get exactly the same experience from downloading something as I could from buying something but my bank balance wasn’t affected.”

He still goes to the cinema “because that is an experience that you can’t get at home on your TV. But if it’s just a film that I want to watch, you know, at home with the girlfriend it doesn’t bother me whether or not I’m using a DVD Player or it’s playing off a USB”.

The “legal” panellists varied in their taste for where and how to watch but there was general agreement that keeping packaged media in the home was not appealing. Jonathan 2, an events manager from Yorkshire, said, “I don’t like actually owning DVDs or Blu-rays. I do own some obviously, but I just find they kind of clutter my house; they don’t look particularly great on my bookcase. And so if I can have them all stored in my iMac then I’m happy with that.”

Sharon, who is going to be a trainee solicitor, said she used to download content illegally but got fed up with the hassle and poor quality. As a busy person who travels a lot, she said, “I find that on iTunes, films aren’t as expensive as buying them in the shops so you don’t need to go out and get a DVD. It’s useful to have films on my iPod.”

Jonathan 2 agreed: “I’ve always got my iPod on me so I quite regularly watch if I’m stuck on a tube or a train. I’ll jump into a little bit of a film or a TV programme. If I’m doing a longer journey going back to Yorkshire or to Boston or wherever, then I’ll tend to either have my laptop or I’ll have my PSP.”

Jonathan 1 said he prefers not to watch films on his iPhone because of the small image: “But there’s some places where it’s a really handy device, like on the go, on a train, on a bus, in the bath. I do quite frequently prop my iPhone up at the end of the bath and watch something.”

Natalie, who said she is from the north east but now lives in London, rents DVDs from Lovefilm but has come to prefer streaming content. “I watch a lot more with streaming. It’s just easier to fit it round your life. I found renting DVDs through them easy to start with but then you’ve still got to plan a bit in advance but with the streaming I can come home and want to watch a film, and just stream it straight away. It’s just easy, really easy basically,” she said.

Glen, an IT analyst from London, regularly rents from Blockbuster and is a huge fan of Blu-ray. “I watched ‘District 9’ the other day, which I rented from Blockbuster, and I was amazed with the quality. It’s so much better than normal DVDs. My girlfriend went on Play.com and bought me the new Michael Jackson film. I was, like, ‘Excellent’. But I checked the receipt and saw it was just a normal DVD, so I went, ‘No, not having that’ and I went back on there and got the Blu-ray instead.”

Jonathan 1, who likes his entertainment without charge, is not impressed. He said, “I’ve been in the stores and you know there’s the big plasma screen, which is bigger than what I own. It has a split screen and it shows you both sides but I wear glasses and I don’t care if it’s a little bit less good quality. I haven’t got home cinema sound so the whole sound benefit is lost on me. There’s no point in a Blu-ray for me. With 3D TV, I totally get it, that’s worth buying — if you give me the money — but Blu-ray, no, it’s, like, no point.”

Sharon confesses that she isn’t certain what Blu-ray is. “It’s just a different format of DVD as far as I’m aware that’s meant to be better quality but that you can only play on certain devices like PlayStation I think. I’m not 100% sure,” she said.

Natalie says she has friends who have Blu-ray. “It’s better quality type of film but I don’t actually understand all of the technology behind it,” she said, adding that she had no plans to buy a player right now.

Rob owns a Blu-ray player because of the quality. “I wanted a better viewing experience. But I think it was more of an impulse-buy, if you like. I got carried away at the time and thought ‘Yes I’ve got to get me one of those.’ But, to be honest, I can download a 1080p Blu-ray and it looks amazing on a 42-inch screen and that doesn’t cost me anything. I just watch it off my laptop with an HD cable into the TV, and I’m watching a very good quality film.”

Regular renter Jonathan 2 owns a PlayStation 3, which plays Blu-ray, but told the audience: “You’ll probably all hate me for saying this, but I don’t really notice a lot of difference. I generally watch most of my films on my iMac anyway. I always rent Blu-ray because I’ve got that option and I think it is better but I prefer just using my Mac, to be honest.”

The promise of lots of extras on Bluray, however, held little appeal for anyone on the panel, even Sharon, who said, “Very unimportant, I think. I have bought DVDs in the past and I don’t think I’ve even looked at the extras.”

Jonathan 2 says he rarely watched them although he did rush to buy Christopher Nolan’s “Memento” attracted by all the extras. “But I only watched about three of them so I’m not doing that again. You know, there’s a sort of slide show of tattoos. It’s like ‘Hmmm okay, I didn’t like the film that much.’ Obviously there was a really bored meeting one Friday afternoon when they thought ‘what could we do to fill the rest of the disk?’ and that was it.”

For Glen, it depends on the type of film: “If it’s based on a true story then the extras are really interesting. The ‘Frost/Nixon’ extras are brilliant and the same with ‘The Damned United’. I loved the extras on that.”

Rob says the only extra of real interest is a director’s commentary: “Like, ‘Lost’, where you’ve got no idea what’s really going on and then the director comes along and explains it. That’s the only thing I’d ever watch as an extra. All I’m interested in is the film otherwise.”

Jonathan 1 also says he enjoys seeing what directors had to say: “I wish more of them had it because that is good. For me, that’s the privilege of watching a film that you thought was great and then you hear the guy that made it talking about it. But when it’s, like, the make-up artist commentary or whatever, you just think the contract wasn’t so good and that’s all they got.”

Moderator Beardsworth wanted to know what the panel thought about the issue of release windows, and when it was appropriate for content to be made available for sale or rent. Rob answered promptly: “It depends on what quality you want. If you were happy to watch a movie that’s been shot, you know at the back of the cinema where there’s people walking past and stuff like that, then probably within hours it’ll be online somewhere.”

With 3D a major focus of the PEVE conference, there was keen interest in seeing the reaction of the panellists. To everyone’s surprise, outlaw Jonathan 1 said he would actually pay for it. Sharon typified their view: “ I think the good thing about 3D is that there’s actually a difference. Like there’s a difference between a normal DVD and Blu-ray high-definition but there’s only a little difference but 3D is a massive leap. It’s so massive you don’t imagine that people will beat that any time soon, so you’ll feel it’s an investment and a long-term investment.”

Outlaw Rob said that he would be inclined to take the legal path if it led to 3D upgrades. “The thing that would — that might — make me buy a film is if I was guaranteed free upgrades. And by that I mean if I purchase it digitally, there’s a DVD version and when it becomes available on Blu-ray I’ll have it for free, and when it becomes available as a 3D movie it’ll be upgraded,” he said.

“One of the big reasons why I don’t like actually buying something physical is because it’s got a shelf life. There’s always going to be something better that comes along in a few years and I’m going to have to pay again for it. And that’s sort of one of my pet peeves I think. “I think one of the things that helps me sleep at night is that I do go to the cinema. I do pay to watch movies. But if I go to the cinema and watch a movie, why should I then have to pay to watch it again in my house? Why should I have to pay again to watch it on my laptop or on my iPhone?”

Rob and Jonathan 1 agreed that there was one big attraction that would make them use legal services: “If it was free.”

Jonathan 1 said he would happily accept advertising as he does with his music on Spotify. He said, “I stopped buying music on iTunes. Spotify plays me really annoying ads and I hate them, but it’s great because it’s free. And that is 100% what would convince me. Nothing else. Release windows, by the way, are for me a complete red herring. I don’t care about your release windows.

“If I want to watch a movie, I want to watch a movie. I particularly like it if it’s not out yet because I get to go and tell everyone I’ve watched something from New York when it’s on in America, because I’ve just download it on BitTorrent. I’ve never had a quality problem and it’s been great. I know that it’s probably the worst thing you want to hear from me but I don’t care if it’s in a release window. That doesn’t mean anything to me.

The threat contained in the government’s Digital Britain Bill, which could lead to punishment for chronic illegal downloaders including being thrown off their internet service providers, did not impress the two pirates on the panel. Said Jonathan 1: “The thing is that you believe it when you see it, right? And you know what? I’ll just switch to my neighbour’s wireless since they haven’t got a password on it. It’s unenforceable, and it’s punishing the consumer because we’re not paying to consume as much as you would like.”

Rob agreed that introducing punishment would make him think twice. “Right now, no. But, I mean, this threat that we keep hearing about — like, I’ve never spoken to anybody ever that’s ever experienced it. But if there’s the threat of sanctions, if being reprimanded comes into place then I suppose it’s something that, you know, I’ll definitely consider.”

The key, said Jonathan 1, was in making access to content simple and inexpensive. “Look at iTunes, look at music. What happened was Napster encouraged illegal downloading and Apple cashed in big time. They found a way to make it easy and convenient enough for us to get our stuff and I paid for iTunes for ages until Spotify came along,” Jonathan 1 said. “So I would say that I don’t believe the industry and the government are going to come knocking on my door. If they did I would act on it, you know, of course I would. I’d stop doing it or I’d use the neighbours’.

He said he downloaded a lot of music on Napster because it was easy. “Like it was so easy to use iTunes and 79p for a song didn’t bother me. So it became quicker and easier for my life. I would guess if the same thing happened with movies — because I’m not going to pay £15 for a movie — I don’t really know how much a movie download is actually but if it’s cheap and easy, I’ll do it and yes I would pay for it.

He said he did not get a thrill from thinking he was ripping off someone but he would prefer not to have to pay. “I have seen no consequences ever that are negative. That would stop me. The reason I don’t speed on the roads routinely is because I’ll get a fine so of course it will stop me. If I got fines I’d stop doing it,” he said.

He reminded the PEVE audience that he and fellow panellist Rob were not alone in downloading illegally. “We’re the two people sitting up here talking to you today, but there’s millions of people doing it,” he said. “There is a sort of perception that it’s not stealing someone’s handbag but more like picking up Rupert Murdoch’s dropped wallet. It’s like, ‘Well the guy doesn’t notice’. That’s the difference. It’s not like going and mugging a granny. It’s like “Hmm, Sony. Okay.”

This article appears in the April 2010 edition of Cue Entertainment

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