Friday, 30 September 2016

The Scourge of the Freeloader

I'm a Kodi user. I'm starting to feel dirty.

Kodi is being tarnished. Eteknix today reported on an 'epidemic' that's becoming the 'scourge of the audiovisual industry'. In that article, a spokesperson for the UK governments intellectual property office is quoted as saying;
'We are aware that set-top boxes, while perfectly legal in their own right, are frequently adapted by criminals to illegally receive TV channels protected by intellectual property rights'
These boxes are everywhere. My facebook feed is filled with sponsored posts promoting their merits. Even Amazon has a slew of 'fully loaded' android boxes at ridiculous prices.

It gets worse. I've recently come across someone hawking this;

How would you feel about having all the best channels available at only a fraction of the cost of traditional subscription packages?

Would you be interested in having access to every 3pm premier league game on a Saturday in full HD? Or perhaps over 2,700 movies on demand with over 280 boxsets just waiting to be watched.

With <name redacted> we provide all this along with a reliable system (PLEX) which is all hosted on one server so you never need to worry about unreliable links. All you need to do is sit back, click, watch and enjoy.

I probed this a little. It's a Roku box with a Plex install calling home to a private Plex server which serves up re-encoded TV streams and media files. For €145 you get the box and a 'years subscription'. €100 per year thereafter.

Boxes to date often suffer from gradual degradation as the plug-ins fail or fail to be maintained etc. This is different. It's very Apple-like in that it ties up the hardware, software and content in one closed loop. Clever. And dangerous.

These things are flying out the door, apparently.

Where I live, I see a growing entitlement culture and a sometimes violent reluctance to contribute fairly to public services. This attitude fosters a ripe breeding ground for these kinds of products. 'Why should I pay hundreds per year a subscription service when I get this for pennies?'.

Why indeed.

I wonder how these re-encoded streams look on the new 4K displays that have been purchased on the strength of the savings made? Poor, I'd guess.

Result? A growing idea that the newer TV standards are rubbish and a scam resulting is less mass market appeal and higher prices for the rest of us.

And that's not even considering the logical conclusion. If everyone migrates from subscription services to the illicit box model, who will pay for new content? And that's across the board from Netflix to Hollywood via Sky and HBO.

It's blinkered behaviour but money talks and it will continue for as long as it's available.
What can be done?

Well, moves are afoot to address the box resellers legally. A cut-price TV store in Middlesborough is in court for selling Kodi boxes. But that's a drop in the ocean.

The real solution likely lies with the software vendors. Indeed, Kodi and Plex can rightly argue that they just build the tools and are not responsible for what users do with them. Should Microsoft be held to account because people can use their OS and browser to find torrents?

But it's reputational at this stage.

I use Kodi to power my whole-house a/v system. It's on every TV and it provides a unified front end for my Live TV and PVR (TvHeadEnd), music files (ripped from my CDs) and movies (ripped from my DVDs and BluRays).

I've been through a lot of systems including SageTV, Plex, MediaPortal and others and Kodi is the one that best matches my needs . It's been rock-solid for me for over two years now.

However, if I was evaluating now, would I even consider it? With all the noise around illegal boxes etc, my perception would probably be that it's just a front end for dodgy streams and will probably be unreliable.

The best solution I see is for Kodi and Plex to step up and limit the extensions and use cases that permit wholesale piracy and nefarious content distribution. Force plug-ins to be vetted. Adopt the Apple model and make sure we've got high quality content still available to us down the road.

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