That might just sound like the subjective ramblings of someone who’s into blood, guts, quality drama and gratuitous nudity. But economic theory suggests that an inefficiently low number of people are enjoying George R.R. Martin’s fantasy epic, along with other cultural gems such as Wolf Hall, Mad Men, and Keeping Up With The Kardashians.
The BBC’s current system turns its rights over to private distributors who profit from the sole right to sell it on. Instead the Corporation could act as a ‘national netflix,’ negotiating purchase of the UK distribution rights to content, and making it available to the public for free.
Such a radical proposal makes sense because of the strange economics of the digital age. The cost of producing an episode of Game of Thrones is high – the first season alone set HBO back $50 million. But the cost of producing an extra copy of that episode is almost nothing. There are lots of people out there to whom the episode is worth only 50p, whereas it costs $4 on iTunes.
This argument applies to a lot of digital media – to e-books, to search engines, and to blogs. Google have found a way around it by monopolising the market and raising revenue from the vapour rising off viewers’ eyeballs. (Advertising). The Adam Smith Institute raises funding from wealthy, libertarian-minded donors. So far the best that TV has to offer is streaming services like iPlayer and Netflix, and the option of online piracy.
It would be anathema to suggest the government getting involved in the business of search engines. Producing the kind of unique institutional culture that Google has is very difficult for a private company to do, and almost impossible for the government. But a quality institution – the BBC – already exists. It already provides online media to millions for free, and iPlayer is an immensely successful streaming platform.
One concern might be the weakening of incentives to produce great shows. But in an age of piracy, producers are already finding innovative ways to finance projects that don’t require shutting out potential viewers.
Nationalising content rights might not seem very pro-freedom. But the current copyright laws provide content producers with a monopoly, preventing people from enjoying content that costs nothing to produce. In this case, government intervention can promote freedom.
Theo Clifford is winner of the 18-21 category of the ASI’s ‘Young Writer on Liberty’ competition. You can follow him on @Theo_Clifford, and read his blog at economicsondemand.com.