Spain: Digital Content's Ghost of Christmas Future

Spain’s piracy problem appears to be testing content owner’s patience.  Sony Pictures’ chairman Michael Lynton was reported yesterday as saying "People are downloading movies in such large quantities that Spain is on the brink of no longer being a viable home entertainment market for us."

Spain has long been the content piracy hub of Europe, both online and offline.  Online music file sharing stands at over 30%, that’s more than double the European average.  Movie and TV file sharing in Spain are both more than three times the European average.  It is no coincidence that during the Spanish recorded music industry lost half its value last decade. 

But that doesn’t justify Mr Lynton’s position. Like it loathe it (and if you’re a content owner it’s probably the latter) Spain is the shape of things to come. By that I don’t mean everyone is going to become a BitTorrent user, but consumers’ relationships with content is changing irrevocably. They increasingly just expect content to be there, and – also in growing numbers – don’t expect to pay a per unit fee for it.  This is the Media Meltdown. 

Instead of creating some sort of creative trade blockade around Spain – which of course will just force more Spaniards on to P2P networks to find Sony content – Sony and other content partners should invest their time and efforts instead on making Spain a test bed for content monetization models in the digital age. 

Spain gives us an uncomfortable glimpse of the future, but it does so in the way that Dicken’s Ghost of Christmas Future does.  It does not have to be this way.  The message for content companies is clear: heed the lessons of Spain’s ghost of Christmas future and learn how to monetize consumption, else watch the digital transition suck your revenues away for good. And what use is a Scrooge if he has no pennies to count?


Spanish users most active online too

There's something else happenign in Spain worthy of comment, I think. Our data shows that Spanish users are not just more inclined to access illegal online content for free - they are also now more likely to interact socially around the content (on social networks and blogs, for example) than users in traditionally more mature EU markets such as Sweden and The Netherlands. So Spanish online consumers value content highly (in terms of commenting on it and sharing it) but are not willing to pay for it directly. If they value the access and the interaction, might those be the areas companies should look to charge for, rather than hoping (without much evidence of success) that users will come round to the idea of paying for the content itself? Or giving up altogether, as per Sony's empty threat?