Like all broke, bored teenagers in the 2000's, I was a pirate. Buying movies and TV shows online was prohibitively expensive and there weren't regular avenues to legally stream anime online. Then I grew up, got a job, and I tried my damndest to leave piracy behind. I pay for Hulu, Amazon Prime, YouTube Premium (grandfathered in through my Google Play Music family plan), and Funimation, and I buy season passes when other shows have a good arc.
However, those subscriptions are only as good as their support and content availability is, and Google's tardiness is getting damn close to flunking it.
Steven Universe had an absolutely insane arc this year, so I bought Vol 7 on Google Play in order to keep up with the drama. I'd watch episodes once they showed up 2-4 days after airing and be happy. The season finale aired January 21 and was up on iTunes and Amazon Video the morning, but it was still absent on Google Play, which I honestly expected. Google Play consistently takes an extra two to three days for episodes to arrive, so I waited.
Two days passed. Three days passed. At this point, I finally broke down and watched the episode in 18 pieces on YouTube, because if the official episode wasn't uploaded, at least the chop-shop versions were. I watched, and re-watched, and I waited.
At a week late, I contacted Google Play support. I was bounced around a few specialists, and the last one gave the usual platitudes about it sometimes taking a while for episodes to be uploaded by the networks. When pushed, however, the response to "Where's my new episode? iTunes and Amazon got it a week ago" was an unexpected one:
"My advice in this situation is to reach out to Cartoon Network and ask them to upload the episode to YouTube."
If a paid episode is uploaded to Google Play Movies/YouTube with errors or glitches, Google is more than willing to contact the network and get the episode fixed. If an episode isn't being uploaded on time, Google doesn't consider that a content issue and will not contact the distributors to fix it, even for season pass content that has been pre-purchased.
At least with YouTube's popularity, most films and TV shows eventually get to Google Play Movies. The same cannot be said of Google's music services, where content availability and tardiness is magnitudes worse. Google Play Music gets many new releases at midnight like iTunes and Spotify for purchase, but it can take hours, days, or even months for new albums to arrive on Google Play Music's subscription catalog.
Things get even worse on YouTube Music, because yes, you do have an ungodly amount of music available, but the legal, label-uploaded music is absolutely unpredictable. New albums on YouTube Music might show up on time if you're lucky, but there are still a number of labels that will put music on Google Play Music immediately but only upload on YouTube Music weeks or months later over piracy concerns, which aren't entirely unfounded. Albums — new and old — are routinely pulled from the service and only some of them ever return.
I spent last summer begging YouTube Music to give me the Disney albums I wanted to listen to, but until they did, I listened to what was there: the illegally fan-uploaded versions of the content I wanted. I didn't feel great about it, but without the proper albums and songs, users play what's there, and with YouTube Music, what's there is a decade of lyric videos, concert covers and straight album uploads.
Piracy will always be an issue that the media industry faces, and when the legal stores and subscriptions we use to support content we like — and sate our fangirl addictions — fails to give us the content we pay for time and time again, that urge to revert to our pirating roots gets stronger and stronger. And really, why would you wait for the paid episodes to show up later when the free, illegal one in on YouTube seconds after the episode is over?
The industry has recognized and even sought to capitalize on YouTube's unique position on the border of legal and not-so-legal content to try and draw viewers back from "the dark side". For instance, the premiere episode of Star Trek Discovery Season Two was put up by CBS All Access in a bid to bring in new subscribers for the second season — and I really wish they hadn't because damn, it looks good and now I want to watch the rest.
There are many ways to encourage viewers to watch the content they want legally — and seriously, support your shows legally or they can get cancelled — but so long as Google doesn't care about delivering that paid content in a timely manner, it'll be a losing battle for networks, for the individual creators that rely on viewership numbers and digital purchases for renewal, and for consumers that are being driven back to the quick, easy fix of piracy when a content craving hits them.
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