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Does Game of Thrones Owe Its Success to Piracy?

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Still of Idea Channel's episode "Is Piracy Helping Game of Thrones?"

Still of Idea Channel‘s episode “Is Piracy Helping Game of Thrones?”

PBS Digital’s Idea Channel takes on the beneficial side of piracy.  Not totally a new idea – SF writer Cory Doctorow has been a champion of artists growing their audience with Creative Commons-licensed free digital distribution for many years – but for major studios and networks, it increasingly looks as though their revenue model and accounting of gains and losses is incomplete without a more nuanced take on the benefits and income they get from pirated media.

Two quick takeaways:  First, you’d imagine that dedicated anti-piracy advocates would have a vested interest in working to combat the “we can’t pay you, but you’ll get lots of publicity from it” model that’s traditional for interns and even low-level freelancers in a lot of media fields, since they’re also being hit by the expectation that publicity value is equivalent to payment.  And second, the main shift in revenue model once you take piracy-as-benefit into consideration is that you’re shifting from a known rate of payment (one view, one payment) to a probabilistic one (10 views, n/10 payments). That revenue model can certainly work, and I can’t imagine it’s too complicated for an industry that already manages massive probabilistic risk in terms of securing an audience in traditional distribution, but it’s a difficult shift in thinking to make, particularly when Hollywood no longer makes sub-$10 million test-balloon films that it could use to fine-tune its accounting math.  When you have a quarter of a billion dollars on the line, you don’t dabble with new ways of modelling your revenues, even when the old way is outdated, which may give TV networks the advantage in figuring out the new financial math.

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