"Orange Is the New Black" cast members at The Paley Center For Media's PaleyFest 2014. Photo by Dominick D.
“Rewarding good behavior isn’t only for inmates,” a recent email informed me.
The June 1 email came from Netflix and included a link to footage from season five of “Orange Is the New Black,” which the streaming service released in full today. Sharing sneak previews with existing fans of the show is not such an odd marketing strategy. My wife and I have watched and enjoyed the show since the first season, and I am not surprised Netflix wanted to alert me that the new season was nearly here.
However, the reference to “good behavior” – as well as to “patient fans” like me – struck a particularly pointed note in the wake of hackers stealing and leaking the new season ahead of its official release.
A group of hackers (or possibly a lone hacker) working under the moniker “The Dark Overlord” announced in late April that they had secured the latest season of “Orange Is the New Black” by breaching the security of a post-production company that worked with Netflix. The hackers leaked one episode and promised to release the entire season unless Netflix coughed up an unspecified “modest” ransom.
Palisades Hudson’s blog, “Current Commentary,” marked its ninth anniversary on June 2, and anyone who has been reading from the beginning is well aware of my stance on how to deal with hostage situations. In short: The only way to stop hostage-taking is to make sure taking hostages is unprofitable. When human lives are on the line, this can be a gut-wrenching choice. With television episodes, it should be much easier, though not without cost in the form of impact on a business’s bottom line.
Netflix released a statement saying it had involved law enforcement authorities, including the FBI, but it held firm in refusing to pay. True to their word, the hackers leaked 10 of the season’s 13 episodes, with promises of the final three to follow. Netflix decided not to move up the previously announced release date after the leak, trusting that those who chose to wait would not be deterred by the difference of a few weeks.
Not only is Netflix’s decision smart as a way to deter future hacking attempts, it reflects an understanding of the way streaming has changed in recent years. As Brian Barrett explained on Wired, torrenting – peer-to-peer sharing of largely pirated media files – has declined sharply in the past five years or so. For one thing, streaming companies like Netflix have made it much easier to access a show through legitimate channels than to hunt down a stolen copy. The price point is also reasonable; the cheapest Netflix plan is $7.99 per month, with a free first month for new subscribers. Of course there will always be a minority of people who steal pirated files, but how many of them were going to sign up for Netflix in the first place?
The Dark Overlord has also threatened to release programming from other channels, including ABC, Fox and IFC. If the threat is real, those networks would be smart to follow Netflix’s lead in refusing to pay.
It is hard to estimate how much the leak will actually hurt Netflix, largely because the company has chosen not to release data about how many people watch their original programing. Even if the company did so, there is no way to know how many “Orange Is the New Black” fans also subscribe for other Netflix originals like “Stranger Things” or “House of Cards.” Regardless, by refusing to pay the ransom, the company has made it clear that stealing shows and threatening to leak them is not a profitable enterprise. Assuming Netflix and its peers stand firm, this leak is likely to be a temporary inconvenience rather than the start of an ongoing problem. It seems likely that the company’s investors followed this logic, since the company’s shares actually went up after the leak.
When I received the email from Netflix offering me an early peek at the new season, I was aware of its premature release. But I was in no way tempted to go looking for the leaked episodes. Apart from not wanting to harm a company with which I do business, I also figured that anyone who streams or downloads stolen content posted by blackmailers from a website willing to host such material deserves every piece of malware that comes with the package.
As for me, I’m not worried that someone will steal and prematurely release the content from season nine of “Current Commentary.” And that’s only partly because most of it hasn’t been written yet. Happy bingeing to fans of “Orange Is the New Black,” and sincere thanks to fans of “Current Commentary.” We look forward to having you with us for years to come.