Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Piracy and TV programming

It's a sad day today. The world's largest BitTorrent hub, The Pirate Bay has been closed down by the Swedish police. The high-profile site flagrantly thumbed it's nose at the MPAA and other legal threats, hiding behind lax national laws of the country in which the servers were hosted. Cries of victory are emerging from the hulking media conglomerates and cries of anger arise from the tech-savvy younger generation of users that populated the site.

The question arises again: is hosting torrents illegal? The actual bits and bytes of the shared (and predominantly illegal) content isn't actually on the servers that were confiscated. I point my readers at the following pair of articles on piracy and the effect is is having on the television networks:

Part 1 (How Battlestar Galactica Killed Broadcast TV)
Part 2 (The New Laws of Television)

The articles pose some revolutionary solutions to the "problem" of the large number of television shows floating in the digital mire of the BitTorrent networks. Ideas have formed in my mind, and lacking the large amount of financial backing or political influence to put my ideas into action, I instead post them to the same digital mire of cyberspace in hopes that these ideas may find their ways to someone with the influence and cash to make it reality.

Think for a minute, what companies have the biggest pipes to and from the internet? The ISPs. I'm a Cox broadband subscriber. Now imagine them in the distribution picture. If I woke up tomorrow morning and Cox offered me a service for an additional $10 a month to download unlimited television programming from them, I would jump on it without hesitation. No DRM, commercial-free, and no restrictions on quantity (other than the size of my hard drive). The only catch is that you would have to use their front end which delivers banner ads from the sponsors of the show you want to download, the relevant product placement is where the ISPs could make their money for distribution costs. You use the ISP's massive bandwidth to download via BitTorrent-style transfers and watch on your PC, XBox, or burn them to DVD. Add in a five-second splash screen at the beginning of the program ("This program is sponsored by Nike."), that way it is non-intrusive to the program and is quick enough that you don't need to fast-forward through it, but you'll still see the product ad. The producers of the show get their money from the "Sponsored By" splash, the ISPs cover their costs by front-end ads and the $10 unlimited access fee, and the consumers get their programming.


Will your next issue of Rolling Stone come with last week's episode of American Idol on a disc like this?

My second (and probably less-likely-to-succeed idea) is magazines distributed through digital media. Everything is moving towards electronic format--even the big newspapers (New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and our local Arizona Republic) are online in some form of digital format. Video game magazines have boosted sales by including discs of game demos bundled in the magazines, but theft at the stores means you find yourself with a discless magazine. Enter the future, place the entire content of the magazine on the disc as a hyperlinked PDF readable on your PC and include programming content playable on your DVD player. Imagine going to the store and buying the new "issue" of a magazine dedicated to the TV series Lost. You pop the disc in your home theater and watch the three latest episodes. When you're done, move the disc to your PC and read the newest rumors, news, and interviews of the series in the magazine content. The ads can be in the PDF just like the pages of a normal magazine, so no advertising revenue would be lost. Add in the fact that you can do some wicked dynamic content with interactive media and this could be the next revolution in distributed media. Even trimming down the disc to one episode alongside the textual content can cut down the retail price and even allow packaging in the mini-DVD format for ultra-portability!

Regardless of what the future methods of programming holds, like the articles above said, the current methods are quickly being obsolesced and a new method needs to be organized. We are still at risk of falling into the greedy clutches of the industry, much like the iTunes downloads are restricted. Ultimately, the consumer holds the power of choice with our wallets, so hopefully digital programming distribution will avoid the same pitfalls. Let the revolution begin!


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