In this article in the Australian five days ago, Australia and the UK are identified as being the two largest pirates of TV content, especially material from the US. I found this article immensely amusing, especially the following excerpt:
“Unless you’re a pretty big cybergeek, people are generally happy to watch it on TV,” said an executive at one UK broadcaster who asked to remain anonymous.
Nevertheless, Hollywood is not standing by idly. Fearful of a repeat of the rampant downloading that crippled the music industry, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) has forced the closure of several sites that provide the links needed to download movies and television shows.
In my previous post on piracy-related issues, I talked about the inadequacy of staggered global release policies in an environment in which consumer sovereignty exists to the point where this staggered release system is completely irrelevant, and serves only to promote and give additional cause for piracy. We’re seeing exactly the same issue with staggered television episode release, too.
Succinct version: The UK broadcaster executive labelling the issue as being niche and only for “pretty big cybergeek[s]” is horribly, horribly naïve and generally misguided, making him/her more than a little bit the fool.
Not-so-succinct version: They’re horribly wrong, and I’ve got anecdotal and other evidence to conclusively prove him so. Really. Admittedly, anecdotal evidence which is drawn from a smaller spectrum of society, but it’s indicative of a greater problem to come (teenage culture representing an “early adopter” market within the field of consumer electronics and technology), which cannot be simply ignored in the way that it appears broadcasters have ignored this.
Today a group of people at school were talking about the TV show “Desperate Housewives”, and someone said words to the effect of “I wish I knew what happened next week, this is addictive TV!” (apparently most of Australia would agree with them, as evident from the statistics posted on Steve’s weblog). That’s far less interesting in and of itself than what came next – a comment along the lines of “Oh, in the US they’re up to [some other season or something], I’ve already seen them”, coupled with an offer to plot-spoil for other watchers of the series. Which isn’t exactly something the networks need to worry about – plot spoilers rarely would actually deter someone from spending an hour (or 47 minutes, given the 13 minute advertising restriction in that timeslot in Australia, if I recall correctly – someone might care to clarify as a matter of trivia?) watching a programme they enjoy, even if it makes little to no difference to them in terms of plot revelation.
The more significant part of this comment is of course that this person had actually seen these episodes, and context which direct quotation can’t convey – this person is a TV addict, but they’re hardly a “geek extraordinaire”, which is important in criticising this executive’s statements. The person who’d seen the episode was hardly the only one, either, although the only instance that immediately springs to mind as being noteworthy.
A slightly more removed example from this is from a few months back, relating to those piratical-problem-children, university students from an institution that shall remain unnamed. Episodes from the entire first season of The OC, long before we were too far into it here in Australia. On a laptop, downloaded from Peer-to-Peer, by an arts student with a moderate (and I mean very moderate!) IT bent… nobody ever try and say that using peer-to-peer is beyond the scope of any average teenager or university student!
Which is, of course, exactly what this executive was suggesting – that downloading content that isn’t available by other means is something solely restricted to geeky people. It’s not. And until this fact is recognised by networks, they can enjoy watching their advertising revenue fall as viewers enjoy ad-free downloaded captures of programmes not yet even released in this country – all of which could be circumvented through studios permitting and supporting simultaneous International content release, because realistically “global premiere rights” don’t offer anything aside from marketing appeal, as the audience can’t just hop continents in order to view it on a competing network (that’s an issue for another decade, when real-time video streaming becomes as prolific as audio streams are today… although competition with traditional radio networks is only just beginning to become apparent in the US, with the advent of dedicated wireless streaming services), but they CAN wait 24 hours to view an ad-free capture of the same programme via the Internet if they’re patient, or if the programme isn’t available in their locale.
The executive wasn’t completely wrong. People are happy to watch things on TV. The only issue with that is that TV must be showing the content that people want to watch – that’s long been a recognised fact, but perhaps not so much in the timing of this content delivery… now, it has to be on a schedule which leaves the audience no alternative which is desirable (because TV itself is easier to use than peer-to-peer downloading).