South Park’s Prescient Prediction: Bitcoin & The Digital Distribution Of Media

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In the 2008 South Park episode “Canada On Strike,” South Park character Kyle conjectures that, back then, we were still a few years away from when digital distribution of media on the Internet would be developed to a point where traditional means were no longer needed.  The clip is called “The Promise of Future Revenue.”

…You know I learned something today. We thought we could make money on the Internet. But while the Internet is new and exciting for creative people, it hasn’t matured as a distribution mechanism to the extent that one should trade real and immediate opportunities for income for the promise of future online revenue. It will be a few years before digital distribution of media on the Internet can be monetized to an extent that necessitates content producers to forgo their fair value in more traditional media.

In it, the leader of the World Canadian Bureau, Steven Abootman, organizes a strike against Canada. What is Canada on strike for? More money. Where, the rest of the world wants to know, does Canada expect this money to come from? “Internet money,” Abootman replies. “Gives us some of that Internet money.”

The South Park boys, tired of reruns of their favorite television show, Terrance & Phillip, decide to get Canada some of that “internet money.”

When Butters goes viral with a video “What, What? In the Butt”, the boys show up at the DIM (Department of Internet Money). They tell the secretary, “Hi, we made a really successful thing on the Internet and we’d like our money.”

The secretary replies, “take your number and wait with everyone else.”

In the waiting room at the DIM, the beleaguered boys meet a host of YouTube sensations, all of whom discuss how they are “theoretically millionaires” because of how many views they had received on the internet. They are all waiting on their checks.

Eventually, the boys receive 10 million theoretically dollars and try to offer this to the Canadians, but it isn’t enough. They’ve learned their Internet money is no good.

But, a lot has changed on the Internet since the twelfth season of South Park, and one particular advent has major implications for the profitability of digital content online: Bitcoin.

When the Episode “Canada Goes on Strike” aired,  Bitcoin was a twinkle in Satoshi Nakamoto’s eye (Nakamoto is the apparent creator of Bitcoin) as he wrote the code.

Now, nearly five years after its release, an entire Bitcoin economy exists. Never before has it been so easy for a consumer to pay for something online.

As a layer of the Internet, the Bitcoin protocol has lots of potential. One such potential would be to transform the meaning of a Facebook ‘like’ or other social media share. Instead of waiting at the DIM for their money, what if artists or other individuals who became famous on the Internet received money each time somebody liked their material via a plugin with Bitcoin that automatically broadcast the transaction.

In other words, you like something, and your Bitcoin client automatically sends a small tip to the creator. No more Google AdSense. No more DIM.

Overall, the South Park writers were pretty close in their estimation that it would be a few years until the Internet supported the distribution of paid media. While Bitcoin would be released about six months after the episode aired, it wouldn’t be a few years until Bitcoin truly worked.

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