Writing at Newsroom.co.nz, Mark Jennings covers a weak financial result from Sky TV. He quotes boss John Fellet:
“Piracy has become our biggest competitor.
“The big problem is the increasing ease by which pirated content is accessible.
“Devices preloaded with piracy software enable users to access pirated content stored on servers overseas, from the comfort of their living room.”
There’s little question piracy happens. Every so often an email arrives from a company that offers exactly the kind of device Fellet blames for a poor financial result. You can buy a VPN and watch shows or sports that cost money on Sky on other nations’ free to air TV channels. It’s not hard.
But it’s not the whole story.
Today’s pirates are keen consumers of paid services
Analyst firm IDC says New Zealanders are now among the world’s keenest buyers of paid online services. Some 22 percent of consumers here say services like Netflix and Lightbox are their main way of viewing entertainment.
That’s on a par with the US and a long way ahead of the worldwide figure of 14 percent.
We’re still behind North America when it comes to buying a streaming service. On the other side of the Pacific 41 percent pay for streaming TV, here just over a quarter do.
New Zealand wasted little time moving from near the bottom of the online service league to the top of the table. It is three years since Spark launched Lightbox, the first widely available local service. There were also services like the Premier League Pass which allowed fans to watch English football on digital devices.
Netflix fixes pirates
While many New Zealanders paid for an international version of Netflix, that service didn’t arrive in a local form until early 2015. Network companies like Chorus and ISPs like Orcon show graphs of how data consumption rates leaped after Netflix opened in New Zealand. It helps that these services arrived as the nationwide UFB fibre build hit its stride.
These numbers give the lie to the idea that New Zealanders are software pirates or spend a lot of time downloading illegal content.
Some of the discussion of this survey on social media centred on the poor entertainment choices had before streaming video was a practical option.
Fellet’s Sky TV enjoyed an effective monopoly on paid video entertainment for a generation. By overseas standards it is, or was, expensive. Sky was never fast bringing shows to New Zealand, that wasn’t an issue back when it started, but online spoilers and the buzz around big, popular shows meant that annoyed consumers.
Sky missed a trick with the internet. It still doesn’t make all content easy to buy online. Instead it uses out-of-date set top boxes. Its technology is more than a decade behind the times.
Customers found they could download shows ahead of Sky’s schedule. They can watch them when they like. They also realised they could get their material without paying. Many still do. But as the IDC evidence shows, New Zealanders are more willing to pay for TV than most people in the world.
While Sky could legitimately claim it was losing to pirates, there’s another side to the debate. Studios sold exclusive rights to Sky for vast fortunes, but did little to police how their products were distributed.
For a while New Zealand consumers could buy shows from international online services for a fraction the price charged by Sky. The pay TV company would have a legitimate claim against the studios, but chasing wealthy lawyered-up corporations is harder than busting kids who know how Bittorrent works. You could argue the studies who sell to online services and Sky at the same time are the pirates.
Not just movies and sport
IDC says it isn’t just movies, sport and TV shows. New Zealanders are among the keenest users of all premium digital services. This includes online music streaming, cloud services, and console gaming. We are also among the highest users of Facebook with 81 percent of people who answered the survey using the service in the month before they were asked. The worldwide figure is 74 percent.
People here own an average of 6.5 digital devices and spend 56 hours, roughly half, of waking hours connected to online.
In general, we’re a practical breed. We tend to use digital services if there’s an obvious benefit. If the benefit is less clear, we’re more tentative. So just 18 percent of New Zealanders have used virtual reality in the past year. This compares with 38 percent worldwide.
To get these numbers IDC questions 30,000 adult consumers in 19 countries. 1400 of them were in New Zealand.