Commentary

For Some Of Us, Pay Services Are A Steal

Cable TV came relatively late to Chicago and by the time it did, ways to steal service had been perfected elsewhere. Chicago kind of prides itself on a certain level of dishonesty and graft, so stealing cable was no big deal. The opportunity to do it was so easily built into the process, you could almost make the claim you didn’t even know you had done something wrong. Almost.

When we moved to our first home in 1987, the cable guy doing the installation asked, “While I'm here, do you want HBO?” like asking if I wanted an extra remote. When I said I did, he screwed a stainless steel cylindrical attachment to my input cable. Then he stood before me and gave a little smirk and sideways glance toward the hook-up, as if to say, “Well. . . ?”  

Not the most admirable trait, but I always want repairmen/installers to think I know the score. So I produced a $20 bill, and the deal was done. But because I worked for the media covering the media, I unscrewed the thing after he left, called TCI, and went legit. I thought getting arrested would have been bad for the image.

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But with the Internet, taking without paying is at least as historical, most famously with Napster ,but also with the early history of any intellectual product that thought you’d actually pay to receive it.

So when I read a short item on Streaming Media.com about “credential sharing,” it was not at all surprising. Ever since HBO Go began, it seems, scammers have used somebody else’s cable information to be able to stream HBO where they were. Usually, these scammers are college-aged. Usually “somebody else” is their parents.

Parks Associates has produced a new report that says 6% of all broadband-capable households make use of a streaming video service paid for by someone who doesn’t live there, and 20% of streaming video viewers between the ages of 18 to 24 do.

That costs the business $500 million this year alone, and, in case you wondered (though why would you?), the thieves do it to save money.

You want to think people are good, and I’d bet 90% of those 20% would qualify otherwise as good people. But if haters gonna hate, then work-arounders are going to work-around things. When The New York Times essayed on HBO Go thieves, the author talked to an editor at BuzzFeed who acknowledged that in his office of mostly young workers, stealing the signal is fairly common by people who:

1) like watching HBO shows, and
2) cannot fathom paying for them.”

The New York Times author freely admitted stealing HBO and Netflix, too.

The good news is that as people get older, it appears more of them begin paying. Maybe they get a better job. Maybe they get a more truthful spouse or roommate. Maybe their parents quit HBO, and now steal the signal from their kids. Will the circle be unbroken? I’d say so.

pj@mediapost.com

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