Wednesday, 9 July 2008

in which I draw attention to a sham study conducted by Futuresource on behalf of Macrovision

Now this has got me pretty wound up. I picked up on this story in Ars Technica which claimed that one third of U.S. residents rip DVDs. Wait, what? Shurely shome mishtake?

So I followed the trail to this white paper (pdf) issued by Futuresource Consulting, a British PR company. The actual figures they've come up with are 32% in the United States and 36% in the United Kingdom admit to ripping DVDs.

I call bullshit. There's no way these figures are accurate. Most people wouldn't even know where to start. And my guess is that people who (a) know how and (b) can be bothered would be more likely to download their content straight from the web. Even a figure as high as 5% would raise an eyebrow. If you think a third of all people have ripped DVDs, then you haven't met people.

Turns out the research was sponsored by Macrovision, who proudly claim: "Macrovision provides copy protection, digital rights management, digital content licensing and asset management technologies to video, music, entertainment and business software markets". No conflict of interest there then!

But surely even if Macrovision had hired them, Futuresource would still try and demonstrate their integrity. At least they haven't tried to hide the sponsor's name. But where did they find the 5,331 respondents? Slashdot? Usenet? You can't tell from the report. And how were they incentivized to take part? The report doesn't say. You would think that most people smart enough to rip a DVD would also have seen the warnings and promotional films at the start of EVERY SINGLE FILM warning them about piracy. They'd hardly admit to the crime. And what were the specific questions asked? They're not stated in the report. From my experience doing user research, you've got to be very careful not to put words into people's mouths. It's dead easy to manipulate these surveys.

But even still, I doubt very much whether they'd get 1/3rd of respondents to admit to doing something they probably don't even understand. I cast aspersions on thee, Futuresource!!

So, here's a helpful summary:
  • Futuresource are puppets-for-hire, with no integrity
  • Macrovision are so desperate to prop up their broken business model that they'll pay someone to make stuff up
  • And at the very least, shame on Ars Technica for not at least reporting that the white paper was sponsored by Macrovision. You have a responsibility to your readers to do at least a little fact checking before running a piece like this.


FND said...

Bang on, sir - thanks for spotting that!

Anonymous said...

But it didn't say 1/3 of US (or UK) residents. It said 1/3 of respondents from a survey of a three something thousand consumers (don't have article at hand).

One would assume that the group surveyed did not include anyone under 12 (or similar low age limit) and possibly had other exclusion criteria (perhaps those without access to a means of copying). One would also assume that the respondents (which would only be a subset of those surveyed) who bothered to reply would be only those who actually buy, rent or borrow DVDs, thus excluding many in the 60+ age range

Phil Whitehouse said...

Thanks for your comment, Anon.

"But it didn't say 1/3 of US (or UK) residents"

But actually it did, in the title. The title of the Ars Technica piece was "Breaking the law: one-third of US residents rip DVDs". That's what piqued my interest!

Re: the assumptions, that's kind of my point. We haven't been given the facts, and therefore we're left to make assumptions. They made the mistake of making the results and conclusions completely unbelievable.

An assumption I would make it is that the participants would be recruited via a research recruitment company. This company would be given a 'screener'; a document outlining the type of people required for the survey. In this case, if the results of their survey are accurate, then I suspect the wording of the screener has a lot to do with it e.g. only recruit people that will help us prove our point. I doubt very much whether it's representative of the general public.

Benjamin Disraeli said it best; there are three kinds of lies; "lies, damned lies and statistics".

James said...

Good catch Phil. I saw the title yesterday on CNN, and thought it was a little suspicious, but neglected to dig further. This is definitely another one of those 'studies' that can produce whatever type of results it wants. These guys should look into expanding their services to 'creative accounting' as well...

Phil Whitehouse said...

Damn. I'd be really interested to know whether CNN reported the findings as fact, or called out the bogus nature of the report.

Quella said...

Keep up the good work.