Content Creators: Piracy Enabling ‘A Lost Generation’ (CDSA)

By Chris Tribbey

HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — John Landgraf, CEO of FX Networks, looks at Internet piracy today, and offers a simple comparison for those who steal: The same amount of money and man hours can be spent constructing both a building and a movie, yet only the latter is considered open season for theft.

And that makes him — in his words — furious.

“There’s a business built around taking the thousands, tens of thousands, the millions of hours of labor it takes to start with an idea, develop it into something as concrete as a film or TV show, and then develop that into a financial asset [for] multiple different territories around the world [with] multiple different windows,” Landgraf said Dec. 9, speaking during a keynote panel at the fifth annual Content Protection Summit.

Contracts, financing, carefully crafted distribution through various windows, ad sales, working with pay TV, over-the-top and brick and mortar to sell your work, all of it thrown aside, simply because the first time a film or TV show is made public, “people feel like it’s their right to make an infinite number of copies” and “take away all the value of it.”

It’s not just dollars and cents Landgraf is worried about, he said. It’s the stifling effect Internet piracy has on creativity. With piracy so rampant today, what’s the incentive for new content creators to push their work forward?

“I worry about this generation, and the generation after that, generations that could be lost to the lie that this stuff is free, should be free,” he said. “I worry about two or three lost generations of artists who can’t find a way to make anything of real quality.”

The Internet is the “Wild West,” Landgraf said, and almost everyone dealing in piracy is an outlaw. It’s not right, but it’s the reality of today’s “me first” culture, according to Eli Attie, producer and writer for “House, M.D.” and “The West Wing.”

“The Internet, as a broader issue, has created a culture of ‘free,’” he said. “People expect everything to be free on the Internet. I’m surprised they don’t just expect things to be mailed to them [via] the Internet.”

Ruth Vitale, executive director of Creative Future — a studio and content owner industry coalition set up to combat piracy — said movie and TV audiences need to be made to understand: “What we make has value,” she said. “You kill yourself to do what you do,” she told both Landgraf and Attie.

The financial toll can be devastating, she added. At one point, BitTorrent downloads of 2010 Best Picture winner “The Hurt Locker” hit 10 million, outpacing the estimated 8 million tickets sold at the box office, Vitale said. And for last year’s Best Picture-nominated “Dallas Buyers Club”?

Roughly the same number of box office tickets sold — about 8 million— vs. 22 million illegal downloads.

“The other side will say ‘well, nobody was going to see that movie anyway,’” Vitale said. “The fact is, let’s say even 5% of would have bought [the film], that’s [millions] of dollars.”