MPAA’s Where to Watch: A Huge Step to Combat Piracy

by Nicol Turner-Lee, Ph.D. on November 20, 2014

MPAA Where to Watch

Do you want to search the web for current and forthcoming film and television content? Well, there’s now an app for that. 

Last week, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) introduced a one stop location in its launch of Where to Watch, a new online resource that makes it easy for consumers to quickly and legally access creative content in an ad-free environment.  Where to Watch gives users the ability to catch trailers for their favorite movies and TV shows, discover behind the scenes activities, and most importantly, find legitimate locations – whether in stores, at kiosks, or on digital downloading and streaming sites – to access content.  Content piracy is a major issue for the creative industry because it ultimately hurts the writers, producers, directors, actors, and all those who work in jobs supported by the film and television industries.  All of these players ultimately rely upon the revenue generated from their content to recoup initial investments and access capital for their next project.

Piracy is viewed as a victimless crime and believe it or not, it happens within our own communities.  For some of us, a trip to our local barber or beauty shop is also an opportunity to pick up an illegally obtained, or “bootleg,” movie DVD or music CD.  While I’m not calling anyone out, the adrenaline boost of sifting through grainy, poor quality video selections to avoid purchasing a movie ticket can be euphoric.  It’s a bargain when compared to the perceived high cost of the box office that many consumers hold and that’s without the hot, buttered popcorn.Yet, for each pirated video that is sold in the underground economy, content creators have to struggle to raise revenue and eyeballs for their next project.  The ten dollars paid to the “bootlegger” might help his or her underground side hustle, but it doesn’t count toward the total revenue goals for that film on opening weekend.  It also doesn’t support the royalties generated from purchasing the full series of a favorite TV show at a big box store.  And, these factors all too often lead to unemployed writers, producers, actors, and others working in the creative industry struggling to make ends meet.

Now, I’m not suggesting that the local bootlegger is solely responsible for depleting the value of content and fueling the piracy industry.  International pirates are a large part of the problem.  Enterprise piracy, such as large scale DVD warehouses, further complicates the issue, along with the widespread abuses of illegal digital streaming and file sharing services.  According to a report from the Digital Citizens Alliance, the top 30 “cyberblockers”, a particular type of piracy, generated $100 million in revenue last year through subscriptions and advertising.  Ad-supported piracy also generated $227 million in revenue for websites illegally selling ads against stolen content.  All of these factors combined make it more difficult to identify a “one size fits all” policy solution.

Where to Watch is one of many steps to counter these bad actors and consequences.  By simplifying the process of identifying legitimate websites for rent, purchase, or general viewing of content, it takes on the online piracy sites that are avoiding the mandates of copyright protections.

I personally vetted the site to accommodate my own viewing interests, and here’s what I found.  Searching for that 1975 classic Cooley High about the relationship between young black teenagers growing up in Chicago’s Cabrini Green neighborhood, I was directed to VUDU, an online streaming site.  Looking to experience the chilling wakeup call of police brutality as seen in the directorial brilliance of Fruitvale Station, Where to Watch took me to Target, Amazon, Flixter, iTunes, and VUDU where I had the option to stream or purchase the film.  Anxiously awaiting the release of the 2015 movie Selma, the historical docudrama detailing the marches from Selma, Alabama, to the nation’s capital to fight for voting rights, Where to Watch offered me the trailer and, since the full film hasn’t been released yet, it let me set up an alert to receive notification when it is.

Where to Watch is not just about assisting consumers in finding their favorite films and television shows; it’s also about providing a direct gateway to legal platforms that, in turn, reinvest into the broad creative ecosystem and ensure that your purchases count.

The ability to share our stories on the big screen is critical to addressing the negative stereotypes and narratives that plague oppressed communities.  Clearly, not all of the creative content that emanates from Hollywood presents accurate depictions of the values and lifestyles of people of color.  Ensuring creators get paid for their content incentivizes the creation of diverse content from diverse creators.  So, the next time you find yourself salivating over the big cardboard box (or in some cases, suitcase) of DVDs in your neighborhood barber or beauty shops in an effort to avoid the box office, think about the endorsement you just made to the piracy community, and the pending impact it will have on independent and emerging creators of color who want to Do the Right Thing, as Spike Lee would say, to earn their share in this burgeoning industry.


  • Nicol Turner-Lee, Ph.D., Dr. Nicol Turner-Lee is Vice President and Chief Research and Policy Officer for the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council (MMTC). Prior to joining MMTC, she served as President and CEO to NAMIC, a professional association representing diversity in the cable industry and as Vice President and Director of the Media and Technology Institute at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.


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