The current reality for Web video watchers: Dealing with the fact that full episodes of your favourite show could get yanked off legit sites like Hulu whenever the rights holders feel like it. Like this month’s removal of almost three seasons of FX’s “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” from Hulu. (Now back, temporarily.)
We don’t know specifically why FX asked Hulu to pull “Sunny.” But we assume — like recent Apple (AAPL) iTunes and Netflix (NFLX) streaming movie removals — that it has to do with the fact that offline revenues from DVD sales, rentals, TV syndication, etc. are still more important to media companies than the tiny trickle of ad revenue they get from sites like Hulu.
Fair enough. But if FX insists on yanking “Sunny” from Hulu, it’s going to have to deal with the fact that it’s going to boost piracy, not just DVD sales.
People use Hulu because it’s free, easy to use, and good quality. But mostly because it’s free. The next easiest, freest option for many Hulu users — people comfortable with watching TV on their computers — isn’t driving to Best Buy (BBY). It’s a Firefox trip to The Pirate Bay.
We assume media execs know about this, and that the economic tradeoff is worth it for now — sacrificing some viewers and their ad revenue to BitTorrent to inch up DVD sales — or whatever. But when will that tradeoff swing the other way?
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