It all started with this graph earlier this year, showing what impact the “Netflix for Piracy” service that is Popcorn Time has managed to achieve in the past 6 months, and the fact that Netflix gave unrequited attention to the service in its open letter to shareholders.
Albeit it’s only a graph showing usage in the Netherlands , it’s a clear indicator that the ugliness of torrent downloading, which could “make you feel dirty” by doing something illegal, has now been astutely fixed — so much so that un-advised users are very sure that it’s a clear competitor of giant Netflix.
But Popcorn Time — whether the original one or it’s multiple spin-offs — is more than just a felony hidden in details. Its disrupting nature and extent to which it’s a service made by good-faith users for other users all-over the world are the stuff that rattles industries and shakes business models. And it’s this impact that should change the way media and content creators build up licensing models that ultimately bring content to the end-user.
From a legal perspective, Popcorn Time has taken a small, but important step away from the torrents system. Sure, you still download and subsequently seed content into the network, but this only happens while watching content; once you close the movie, that content gets erased automatically from your system. That being said, enforcement authorities should have to deal with the hassle of both taking note in real-time that a user is infringing copyright by seeding content, and also be able to send someone their way (on or offline) in order to catch them red-handedly or, at least, have proof that infringing content has been seeded from a PC (especially since the IP monitoring possibility is not clearly understood across all jurisdictions). Since Popcorn Time has also spawned mobile apps for streaming, the issue becomes even more burdensome if users are watching content on the go. The verdict? It’s unlikely that someone will go after users streaming the occasional show.
From a technical perspective, this is decentralization taking a big design leap. Torrents may be devious, and Bitcoin is still only seen as a perilous currency, but both of these hold an important technology behind them — one that allows people to act both as users and as admins of potentially any service in the world. Moreover, in the case of Popcorn Time, the platform is open-source, and the team behind it consists of 20+ developers scattered around the world. This means large potential for regeneration whenever the system is down, and the ability to have anybody hop on to provide help and ideas on growing.
From a business perspective, compare what Popcorn Time is doing to hackers: you can either blast at them or want them on your team . In any case, you cannot disrupt by following rules extensively, and even if any of the people working in creating, improving or maintaining Popcorn Time might not be geniuses, they are taking long-standing practices in the media and film industry and trying to bend them for the welfare of the audience. Netflix boasts that subscriptions are low for their service, and this has garnered an important user-base for them, but as with any other startup-turned-big-business, it’s easy to fell prey to shareholders’ pressure and forget that the users are your main force on the field.
Any business model gravitates around adoption, and users want relevant, up-to-date, newest-of-the-new shows and movies to be delivered to them — after all, it’s the age of having anything in real-time at your doorstep, so legal video content should not be trailing this badly. This is why piracy has always been and will be successful — because the business model there relies on customer satisfaction first.