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Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May, and some very fast cars for The Grand Tour. Amazon Studios

Amazon’s new Grand Tour series could be the next illegal download victim

The much awaited new car show, The Grand Tour, launches on Amazon Prime today, Friday November 18.

The show is hosted by Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond, all former presenters of the BBC’s popular Top Gear series. All three signed a three series deal with Amazon.

Each series will include 12 hour-long episodes. But unlike many video-on-demand (VoD) series which release all episodes simultaneously, The Grand Tour will have weekly episodes, more like traditional television.

The Grand Tour Offical Trailer.

Due to the nature of the program and the hosts’ association with Top Gear, there have been intellectual property fears about its resemblance to the BBC program and its format. At its height, Top Gear was reported to be worth £50 million (A$83 million) a year for the BBC.

Clarkson said:

The lawyers pointed out that we couldn’t host the show from a static location because, although it had [originally] been our idea, the BBC owned it.

So to alleviate this issue at least, the team will travel the world and host each episode from a giant tent.

The Grand Tour in grand tent in California. Amazon Studios

The program is reported to have a budget of £4.5 million (A$7.4 million) per episode, ten times the budget allocated when the trio were hosting Top Gear.

The opening title sequence for The Grand Tour itself is said to have cost £2.5 million (A$4.1 million) alone, set to show homage to Mad Max: Fury Road.

The Grand Tour in Namibia. Amazon Studios

So it’s a big show with big expectations, from both fans and Amazon Prime.

At the moment Amazon Prime is only available in US, UK, Germany and Japan but Amazon has just announced the show will be available in more than 200 countries from December.

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So what impact could The Grand Tour – and the potential of a wider Amazon Prime launch – have on Australia’s changing media landscape and Australians’ viewing behaviours?

A flagship launch program

There had been some speculation that The Grand Tour would be the flagship program used to launch the Amazon Prime service in Australia.

Netflix has seen great success after its global launch. In Australia, Netflix is the major VoD service, far outweighing the subscription numbers of local services.

The success of Netflix has also seen a shake-up of the local media landscape.

Quickflix’s future is unclear despite a recent takeover, Presto will cease its service in January 2017 and Foxtel is reshaping its packages and pricing as it attempts to re-imagine itself in this ever changing space.

With Amazon Prime now launching in Australia there will be two international VoD services competing with a single locally owned VoD service, Stan.

There is also Hulu, another VoD and streaming service, which may too set its sights on Australia in the near future. This is more likely to have the largest impact on Foxtel due to its recent deal to stream several sport channels.

So The Grand Tour will be available to Australian consumers, but only after the launch date and on a subscription service, no free to air access.

Will some Australians seek alternative ways to gain access, as we saw occur with Orange is the New Black and House of Cards prior to Netflix’s local launch? Australian consumers have shown they will find a way to access the content as they did with Game of Thrones, available here only on Foxtel.

Will the recent apparent decline in copyright infringement begin to increase again, thanks to The Grand Tour?

Fans will want to see what antics the presenters get up to on The Grand Tour. Amazon Studios

Australian and illegal downloads

Australia has a reputation as a world leader in piracy of movies, music and television programs.

But research shows that one of the major reasons Australians seek out illicit downloads in such numbers is that it is more difficult to access very popular content legitimately in Australia.

Compared to consumers in the United States and the European Union, Australians pay more for digital goods, have less choice in distribution channels, are exposed to substantial delays in access, and are sometimes denied access completely.

When quizzed about their downloading habits, it became clear quite quickly that Australian consumers often feel morally justified in downloading content illicitly if it is not available through legal channels.

These are not the hardcore pirates who never pay for content. They are ordinary consumers who believe that paying for content is the right thing to do, but only if they are treated fairly in return.

It is sometimes easy for Australians to feel hard done by in digital media markets. Change has been slow in Australia, and consumers blame distributors here for not keeping up with changing demand for more convenient digital distribution channels.

A large part of the problem is that media markets are segmented geographically, but demand for hit television programs, movies and music is global. Massive advertising campaigns whip up demand for new releases around the world, and fans want to be part of the global conversations around new releases.

International media markets are a complex business. For a premium distributor looking to keep consumers locked into expensive monthly cable plans, or a new entrant trying to build a user base, it makes financial sense to lock up content with exclusive deals.

But when consumers are told they must wait for access, many will turn to illicit downloading rather than take what they see as a bad deal that is forced upon them.

Will we need multiple subscriptions?

The major changes in digital media markets over the last few years means consumers are getting better opportunities, but Australian VoD services are struggling to compete.

Increased competition usually means better outcomes for consumers in the long run. In the short term, though, the fragmentation we are seeing in distribution channels could lead to more exclusive releases and shrinking catalogues as subscription services try to conquer the market for viewers.

As more streaming services begin to compete with each other they look for ways in which to gain subscribers. Netflix has used its Netflix originals to lure subscribers and is set to invest US$6 billion ($A7.78 billion) in 2017 on original content.

But if there are a number of VoD services all producing their own exclusive original content, where does this leave the consumers? Is the future one where consumers must subscribe to multiple VoD services, or somehow try to jump between them?

The Digital Media Research Centre is tracking outcomes for consumers in these rapidly changing industries.

In the meantime, consumers will continue to revolt. There is a good chance that exclusive deals may drive more consumers to infringe copyright, and that would see The Grand Tour as their next target for illegal downloading.

Ultimately, until VoD services work out a way to get consumers access to the media they want, everyone will keep losing out.

Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May on the The Grand Tour in Johannesburg. Amazon Studios

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