English: The new, second-generation Apple TV. ...

Apple TV – soon to be updated to TV4 with universal search (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We focus a lot of attention on the legal and educational aspects of the fight against piracy – and rightly so – but a simple feature announced by Apple this week could hold the key to making content theft less attractive: universal search.

The idea is basic but fundamental to the navigation of the diverse digital services; Apple’s new TV4-based hardware will allow viewers to search for whatever they want to watch, hear, or play, and present results from all of the relevant streaming sites on one screen.

As simple as it sounds in both concept and delivery – and it is – that simplicity is exactly what the world of streaming entertainment is lacking and, potentially, what could confuse everyday consumers enough to send them into the arms of piracy sites.

What universal search brings to the table is convenience.

For tech-obsessed entertainment seekers, there’s no problem when it comes to navigating the many streaming options available for music, movies, games, and television. In fact, it’s part of the fun to learn what each service can and can’t do for their more demanding tastes.

For mainstream acceptance, however, that complexity ceases to be an attraction and becomes a turn-off. When faced with an array of different online services, subscriptions and trial offers, normal consumers are more likely to revert to the relatively simple option of an all-inclusive cable subscription. Such services offer them a simple one-screen guide with all the shows available which is navigable even when there are hundreds of channels.


Apple’s universal search feature – and others that follow it – holds the potential to bring that simplicity to streaming services. Moreover, Apple is a trusted brand that generally delivers seamless hardware integration with a low learning curve, as evidenced by the runaway success of the iPod and iPhone, so if anyone is well positioned to bring these typically mobile and tablet-friendly services into the living room, Tim Cook and co are the ones. When they do realize this goal, piracy sites become a far less attractive option.

Consider that the main reason regular consumers turn to piracy channels is their relative ease of use. They can surf to them quickly and advocates of sites like Popcorn Time, however misguided in their dismissal of the service’s blatant copyright infringement, always highlight the convenience of using one service for any title viewers want to watch.

Universal search on the living room TV and accessible across mobile devices blows this (ill gotten) advantage out of the water. Consumers can quickly see whatever entertainment options they want, listed by price and availability on services that they know are legal. Nothing will make it into Apple’s notoriously closely regulated ecosystem that isn’t a legitimate offering, so customers will finally have complete peace of mind, as well as the convenience they need to embrace the streaming services that meet their individual entertainment needs.

This isn’t to say that the fight against piracy is over. There will always be a core of pirates who want illegal content and have the knowhow to get it. They need to be pursued through more active methods, as we have seen in Scandinavia this year. For regular consumers, though, who fall into the piracy trap through either confusion or frustration, the ease with which they will be able to find all entertainment options on any device in future is likely to be a game changer.

Cutting off this avenue to unlicensed channels is an important step in the drive to legal streaming for consumers and funneling profits away from piracy sites and into the pockets of creators and the legitimate services that distribute their work.