Content Cafe

Industry

Insights from Industry Insiders: Andrew Cripps, President International Theatrical Distribution, Warner Brothers

by Content Cafe — May 20,2021

Each month we hear from industry insiders in Australia and abroad to get their take on content piracy. Is content protection improving? How do we stop piracy? How does Australia compare to the rest of the world? These are some of the questions we'll be exploring with leaders across the content industry.

 

Welcome Andrew, please introduce yourself.

I am the President of International Theatrical Distribution at Warner Brothers, based in Burbank California. I lead a team of talented professionals here at the studio and in offices around the world distributing Warner Brothers films to theatres around the globe, outside of North America. This past year has been one unlike any previous year, and we have seen theatres around the world closed, in some cases for many months on end. While it does feel like we are starting to see light at the end of the tunnel, we all know how volatile the recovery has been and I have no doubt that cinema going will continue to be disrupted for many more months to come. Where theatres have re-opened however we have seen audiences flock back to them, in need of that great communal experience of seeing first class movies the way they were intended to be seen – on the big screen.

Does piracy affect your business or that of your stakeholders? How? 

Yes piracy has a major impact on our business – Warner Media invests many hundreds of millions of dollars in content every year, and the only thing enabling that investment is copyright protection. 

If copyright protection cannot be enforced, financial returns are diminished, investors will lose money, and jobs will be lost.  

Mad Max Furiosa for example – Warner Media has just committed to produce the film in Australia, one of the most expensive films ever produced in there.  On the first day of theatrical release, if an illegal camcord of the title appears online, thousands of people worldwide will be able to access the film for free. The impact of piracy is irrevocable. 

What do you think is the most significant impact of piracy on the creative industry? 

At an individual level, it is very difficult to raise the money required to make a film or TV show. It is incredibly demoralising  to see the many years of hard work from so many talented people, who are dedicated to nurturing and creating high quality entertainment, be appropriated by others for free in 5 minutes. 

At an overall level, it means fewer projects are funded, leading to fewer jobs, fewer opportunities, and less risk taking. 

What is the biggest challenge in the fight against piracy?

Piracy is global and pirate files spread worldwide within minutes.  Not every country has effective laws and deterrent penalties to curb piracy. You can operate a pirate site and server from anywhere. A weak link anywhere in the world (poor copyright protection, lack of deterrent enforcement, lack of law enforcement interest, ineffective judicial system), and a pirate site can be accessed around the world for years and make a lot of money without paying taxes and without hindrance. This is why site blocking is so important – it’s the only way for countries to establish sovereignty, and prevent access to unquestionable pirate sites within Australia. 

The second challenge is that legislation follows technology, so there are always gaps that need to be plugged. Some examples:  

  • Site blocking can be circumvented by using alternate DNS. In Australia the use of Alternate DNS is nearly double that of Germany and the UK, and those that use Alternate DNS are pirating more than the overall population. 
  • Making pirated content available online happens in real time, but the legal remedy takes months to years. Anything to speed up the process would be helpful. 
  • A new emerging trend is the sale and distribution of infringing streaming devices and Apps. These devices and Apps may not host the content, but they make thousands of TV channels from around the world illegally available for a cheap subscription in Australia. They also offer unauthorised video- on-demand channels which illegally offer our new released feature titles at the same time as theatrical release. Countries like Taiwan and Singapore are starting to specifically target and criminalise this activity. 

How do you think Australia is measuring up in tackling piracy? 

We are grateful for the leadership shown by the Australian Government’s actions. Australia’s site blocking legislation requiring Internet service providers to disable access to court-adjudicated pirate domains is world class, and the subsequent expansion of that obligation to search engines to also delist the court-adjudicated pirate domains in Australia was a world first.    

Nevertheless, technology keeps changing, which means legislation needs to keep up. 

Australia is also best in class for education and awareness. Creative Content Australia’s industry stakeholder model, focused on research, public relations campaigns and clear messaging over many years, is one that could and should be adopted elsewhere. 

Do you have any personal experiences or anecdotes about piracy? 

I think everyone that works in the theatrical industry has heard countless stories of illegal camcording from the first shows of movies around the world, and we thank our exhibition partners for being so vigilant in trying to stamp this out. Unfortunately, camcorders still go to the theatres to record a film, without authorisation, on the very first day of theatrical release. Camcorders are pretty crafty in trying to hide their recording devices inside popcorn bags, backpacks with fake compartments, holes on screening room walls and many other ways. As an industry we have to stay one step ahead of them. And with movies now premiering on streaming services earlier than before, it means pristine digital copies of films are available for distribution almost in real time.  

What excites you about the future of your industry sector? 

The theatrical industry has been through a dramatic downturn over the past 14 months as the pandemic has played havoc on production, distribution and exhibition. However where theatres have re-opened it has been amazing to see audiences return to cinemas, especially premium format cinemas, in great numbers. We have seen this in China and also more recently in Japan, where Demon Slayer became the biggest film of ALL TIME in that market. People have a need, perhaps more so now than ever, to get out of the house and be immersed in a movie – it is our job to produce, distribute and market the content and the exhibition industry’s job to provide a superior experience to that which a consumer can get at home. I believe the industry is up for that challenge and I look forward to the future with excitement and anticipation.  

What are you watching and recommending to friends at the moment? 

I am currently watching Mare of Easttown on HBO MAX starring Kate Winslet which I think is an excellent show with terrific acting and writing.  I also recently watched The Undoing with Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant and I can’t wait for the next seasons of Ozark and Succession.

Before you go check out last month’s interviews with  Belinda Lui and Shaun Grant

 

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