Looking to the future is a theme of the blog, and with this post, we’re taking a bit of a larger leap than normal. Bitcoin is a digital, distributed P2P currency that is slowly gaining prominence. Not sure what Bitcoin even is? Have a read of this introduction and the FAQ before continuing or just watch this animated video:
Why Will Bitcoin Become Useful?
What’s wrong with the currencies we already have? Well, nothing in particular if we’re being honest. However that doesn’t mean that they are perfect. In fact, existing currencies erect obstacles to the free flow of money around the world and in the context of entertainment like animation, that will become a restriction on growth. Here’s some reasons why Bitcoin represents a possible monetary future and why animation could benefit from it.
Future digital markets
We’re right in the middle of the seismic shift in content viewing. Traditional models are out; new ones like Netflix and YouTube are very much in. That’s great right? Well yes, yes it is. However while viewing habits are moving towards the 21st century, the monetary systems that support them remain stubbornly in the 20th century. If we are moving towards a digital model for consumption, shouldn’t we also move towards a digital model for payment?
Trans-national Consumer Demand
National boundaries have long been used by traditional broadcasters and distributors as a barrier to to truly free enterprise. Even in Europe where these barriers have been removed (even currency ones thanks to the Euro), content is still sold and licensed on a per country basis.
The internet has long been a borderless platform. The content therein is available anywhere at any time and it is this aspect that has made the internet so successful as a technology. As content moves more and more online, it will also disrespect national boundaries. Yes, the likes of Netflix, Amazon and iTunes continue to use geolocation, but this is more as a form of market restriction at the behest of corporations than for any technological or economical reason.
In contrast, sites like YouTube thrive on being as freely available as possible. Many other services (like Facebook and eBay) do too, and in many ways, traditional currency models restrict their ability to find success.
Now let’s take a look at some of the benefits that could be associated with Bitcoin as far as animation creators and producers are concerned.
As mentioned above, Bitcoin crosses all borders. This has the advantage of removing the need for converting one currency into another. If you live in the US and you earn money from someone in France, one of you must convert the amount and pay resulting conversion fee. That’s lost money for either party. Bitcoin would eliminate conversions and their fees making international commerce much more efficient.
It Makes Payments Easier
It’s tempting to assume that what is accepted practice in your country is also accepted practice in others. A good example are credit cards. They are widespread in the US, but are much less common in other countries either for cultural or economic reasons. As such, many of the platforms and services that animators and producers rely upon here may not be available internationally. PayPal has an international presence, but they are not everywhere. The same goes for Apple, Amazon and Netflix.
With Bitcoin, all you need is a computer and internet access and seeing as they are viewing animation through those already, there is no need for additional equipment. Kiss PayPal goodbye! Transaction fees do exist within Bitcoin however, but there is no such thing as a free lunch, and you can be sure they are less than what many banks and credit card companies currently charge.
As a currency and protocol, Bitcoin’s security relies on verifying transactions and cryptography. Essentially that means that transactions must be verified before they are considered ‘accepted’ and each user has unique encryption keys to ensure that only they have access to their Bitcoins. At the most basic level, Bitcoin operates as a sort of virtual cash rather than any kind of account.
Nothing is perfect and Bitcoin does have a few disadvantages.
Not Widely Understood/Recognised By Consumers
As of writing (February 2013) Bitcoin remains very much on the periphery of the business environment. It has yet to achieve widespread recognition beyond technology circles and has extremely small penetration in mainstream society. This obscurity renders it somewhat unstable as far as its value and likely will until it becomes more widely used.
Fortunately, as Bitcoin becomes more popular, it will become more stable and this con will diminish in importance.
No Legal Status
At present, Bitcoin has no legal status. This does not mean that it is illegal, rather it means that it lacks legal recognition either in law or in court. Facebook credits similarly lack legal recognition yet they are the only method of purchasing things on that social network and widely accepted by its millions of users.
The User is the Security Risk
While the Bitcoin protocol and networks are secure, weak spots remain with the user. If they do not take adequate steps to secure their private key, it is possible for someone else to acquire it and transfer the Bitcoins associated with it. Consider it like leaving your front door unlocked and someone coming in and stealing the cash in your wallet. This is an inherent risk with any currency although there are steps that you can take (if receiving money from customers) to minimize the possibility it could happen to you.
A Theortecical Bitcoin Scenario
Consider this scenario: someone in a far off country sees your short and wants to throw something in the tip jar. How can they do that today? If they don’t have a credit card at all, they are SOL. If they do, it may be difficult or even impossible for them to give you money. To go one further, the platform your video is on may not even handle monetary transactions at all. Would you expect a cheque from them instead? Of course not.
That is how things work today, and while there usually are platforms in place, they are extremely convoluted and time-consuming. Consider the alternative: the user above can instead transfer funds in Bitcoin form to you from their internet-enabled computer directly to you no matter where you are. There are no conversion fees that are skimmed off and the funds are available to you almost instantaneously.
Your film can now be seen and enjoyed by anyone around the world with no upfront (merchant or service) fees on your end to worry about. Isn’t that awesome? More money for you, right?
Now think about the merchandise you can sell using Bitcoins; think about how you can take advantage of local manufacturers to sell that merchandise locally instead of shipping it internationally. Wanna sell T-shirts in Turkey? There’s no point in shipping them from America is there? Instead, pay a local manufacturer in Turkey with your Bitcoins whose value you know and reap the rewards when they are sold.
It’s still very early days for something like Bitcoin and it remains to be seen if it will ever catch on. That said, it’s an interesting technology and one that could benefit media consumption in conjunction with the internet. It is something to keep an eye on.