On David Pogue, Piracy, and the Call for Making Movies Available Online Immediately

Last week, tech journalist David Pogue wrote a piece for the Scientific American calling for the Hollywood studios and the MPAA to make new movies available for streaming and downloads as soon as they open in theaters.

Streaming movies offers instant gratification: no waiting, no driving—plus great portability: you can watch on gadgets too small for a DVD drive, like phones, tablets and superthin laptops.

His basic argument is that people are forced to download illegal copies because they would otherwise have to wait a few months. Even worse, some movies are still not available online.

From an economic point of view, his argument might make sense, although I shudder to think of what that would do the already-struggling movie theaters. But as a lover of motion pictures, the argument makes no sense to me, at all.

If you need to see the latest blockbuster so badly that you can't wait for it come out online, why not spend a few dollars and see it properly? And by properly, I mean in a theater. A film isn't meant to be background noise, but an immersive experience–preferably a communal one with an audience.

Yes, I know: But you can't watch it on your phone! To which I reply: Why would you want to? That's not a movie. It's not even television. It's a peephole.

And if you really can't afford tickets, wait a few months and rent the DVD–or better yet, the Blu-ray. Nothing else you can watch at home matches the image and sound quality of a Blu-ray. Yes, I know that some PPV services offer Blu-ray's 1080p resolution; I've even tested them. And believe me, Blu-rays look better.

Okay, so you're a complete hermit, and you're determined to never leave your house again. So if you can't stream a movie, you can't watch it.

Guess what! Between Netflix and Hulu Plus, you've got an incredible collection of films. Hulu's Criterion channel alone has hundreds of the best motion pictures ever made, and unlike the rest of Hulu, there are no commercials. Netflix has a pretty impressive collection, too, and a more diverse one.

So don't complain that movies are too inconvenient to see. Give them a little respect, and the inconvenience will seem like a small price to pay.

Full Disclosure: Many years ago, David Pogue pirated three works of mine…accidentally, of course. Other people had pirated intentionally and he thought they were anonymously written when in fact I held the copyright. I long ago accepted his apology.

2 thoughts on “On David Pogue, Piracy, and the Call for Making Movies Available Online Immediately

  1. Hi Lincoln! You’ve written a great response–to a column I didn’t write!

    At no point did I EVER suggest that streaming movies be made available “as soon as they open in theaters.” I love seeing movies in the theater, and want to make sure cinemas stay in business.

    I’m not sure where you got that from my column.

    I was grousing instead about movies that never become available EVER online. Not only from the movie fan’s perspective–but even from the studios’ perspective. It’s money they’re leaving on the table, plain and simple.

    If they were available for streaming online–ever–I’m among the many who would happily pay a fair price to see them. But by restricting movies to DVD only–no Internet availability– Hollywood winds up encouraging thousands of people to piracy.

    1. Perhaps I was a little hasty. Your reference to “no driving” struck my mind as “no driving to the movie theater.” And your reference to the “window,” a term often used by those complaining about movies opening initially only in theaters, also threw me.

      As far as a lot of movies not being available online, that’s always the case with new media. Think of how many are still not available on Blu-ray (including several of the ones you listed). For that matter, Greed, The Big Parade, and The Crowd are still not available on DVD.

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