Bob Wright, who is the head of NBC Universal, recently made some kind of a speech in which he equated the motion picture industry’s “war on piracy” with fighting terrorism, Triplett, W., “Pirates pillage U.S. economy,” Daily Variety (Oct. 1, 2006); Boliek, B., “Wright: Economy is under attack,” Hollywood Reporter (Oct. 2, 2006).
In case Mr. Wright didn’t know, issues regarding terrorism in turn implicate the present conflict in Iraq. I think his remarks are extremely derisory to the men and women of our armed forces who serve there, and frequently are killed or wounded.
In my view, the multimedia entertainment conglomerates like to talk about a “war on piracy” as a kind of deus ex machina in an attempt to justify, excuse, or mitigate their own mediocre performance. This particularly is true of a study Wright cited in his remarks, which makes the ludicrous claim that the motion picture industry alone loses $20.5 billion/year as a result of piracy.
The Motion Picture Ass’n of America’s yearly study states that domestic theatrical box office in 2005 was $8.99 billion. A recent newspaper article stated that the value of the domestic home video market in 2006 should be approx. $24.6 billion, Abramowitz, R., “Can Blu-ray Heat Up Hollywood Again?,” Los Angeles Times (Aug. 29, 2006). While there are no good estimates of license fees paid by television broadcasters to movie studios for programming, let’s hypothesize that’s at least equal to the domestic theatrical box office. All of this adds up to $42.58 billion.
So, what Mr. Wright really is saying is that the movie industry would be half again as big, if it were not for piracy. This strains credulity. There are several reasons why DVDs aren’t selling at the rate they used to, such as maturity of the format. And there are several reasons why going to the movies isn’t as popular as it once may have been, including competing entertainment alternatives and less-than-compelling productions.
Rather than blaming everything on piracy, then, I think that Mr. Wright is due for some serious corporate introspection. His remarks are symptomatic of the deep malaise that presently affects the movie industry. In my opinion, this primarily has been caused by a frightened, risk-averse executive culture. This in turn has lead to a “lowest common denominator” aesthetic, and corrupted the entire decision-making process.
UPDATE: Evidently not having completely expressed himself during the course of his earlier remarks, Wright spoke again at a dinner sponsored by the Los Angeles World Affairs Council. According to a press report, Wright claimed that piracy cost $6.1 billion in 2005, DiOro, C., “Wright: Piracy imperils all,” Hollywood Reporter (Oct. 27 – 29, 2006). The relationship between this number and his earlier claim of $20.5 billion is unknown; somebody is leaving $14.4 billion on the table.