After years of glorious, free pirated entertainment, we’re now muddling through a dark age of Paying for Stuff Online. Netflix, Amazon, Spotify — all of these companies render desired services to users through a legally approved mechanism in exchange for payment. How archaic!
Luckily, for those who disagree with the practice of monetary compensation, there’s Popcorn Time — the so-called “Netflix for torrents” invented by a group of frustrated Argentine hackers. Popcorn Time started as an open-source desktop streaming service (which its creators swore was legal) and a version is now coming to Google’s Chromecast, meaning you’ll soon be able to watch free torrents of 22 Jump Street on a slick, well-designed interface in the comfort of your living room.
According to Gizmodo, Time4Popcorn, a popular fork of Popcorn Time’s open-source code, has launched a beta Windows app with Chromecast support, with versions that support Android and Mac on the way very soon. For those unfamiliar with Time4Popcorn: The app looks like Netflix, but acts like Napster — with high-quality, on-demand movies; a catalogue that includes newer stuff than you’ll find on any other streaming services; and, crucially, a VPN feature that covers your digital tracks, making it hard for authorities to come after you for pirating.
I’m being facetious about the horror of the paying-for-stuff trend, but there are real issues at stake here. One reason TV and movie studios have been hesitant to cut big deals with Netflix, Amazon, et al. is that they still have faith in the old distribution models. Streaming services seem worse than movie theaters for the studios, since — as with most new-media platforms — they’re less immediately profitable. But unless consumers have a way to pay to stream new-release movies to their home TVs legally, they’ll migrate to pirate havens like Time4Popcorn.
If it takes off (and, unlike Popcorn Time’s original iterations, stays around), Time4Popcorn could do for Netflix what Napster did for iTunes’$2 99-cent downloads — force big, hesitant old-media companies to accept their fates and play along. Once they realize that they can’t bat away the streaming-TV trend, these studios may spend their time and energy trying to make Netflix and other streaming services as compelling as possible. After all, getting pennies for your work is better than getting nothing.