One of the most bookmarked items this weekend on del.icio.us was a streamed version of The Pirates of Silicon Valley. It’s a well-regarded television movie, based on the book Fire in the Valley, which looks at the early days of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, the respective founders of Microsoft and Apple Computer. The video promoted by del.icio.us is itself hosted by Google Video, a fact that has a couple of layers of irony to it.
Irony #1. Back when the film was made in 1999, Google was barely on anyone’s radar screen. Nowadays, it’s the 800 lb gorilla in the tech sector. In a few short years, it has elbowed Yahoo out of its leadership position on the web, and you can bet it will soon be eating Microsoft’s lunch. If any company is dominating Silicon Valley right now, it’s Google, although a re-invented Apple is certainly having a nice run.
Irony #2. The Pirates of Silicon Valley makes a point of underscoring how Microsoft built its business by “borrowing” from Apple. Meanwhile, Google, which now owns YouTube, has been locked in a lawsuit with Hollywood studios (most notably Viacom) for letting its video services distribute, yes, pirated content. It stands to reason that the Google-hosted version of The Pirates of Silicon Valley falls in that category, though we could be wrong. But given how long the video has been posted on Google Video (since last November) and how many times it has been viewed (352,988 at last count), you have to wonder how much the studio (Turner Home Entertainment) particularly cares. This is all entirely speculative, but perhaps their logic is simply this: The resolution of Youtubesque video is so poor that few viewers will see the movie as a real substitute for the original film, and perhaps users will be motivated to buy the film in DVD once they get a taste of the plot. (This is essentially the same logic, by the way, put forward by those who argue for releasing books in free e‑book versions and fee-based paper versions.) To get a sense of what I’m talking about, you can watch the video below, but you’ll pretty quickly see that it’s worth ponying up a little cash and watching a watchable version. (You can buy one here.)
Long-term some of this thinking may figure into any deal that Google works out with Hollywood. A deal could look like this: Hollywood agrees to upload low resolution content that Google gets to monetize. In turn, Google agrees to let users make contextual purchases of DVDs, or at least download high resolution versions of videos for a fee. And then everyone can go home happy.