The TV channel you can't scan for

DISCLAIMER: This article is not aimed at demonising those that do choose to download TV from the internet. I can totally understand the point of view of those that do and their reasons for doing so, and do not intend to suggest that they should stop. More power to them. This article is simply my opinion.

 A number of my contemporaries espouse watching television downloaded from the internet as the only way to fly. When these people talk about downloading/watching TV from the internet, they mostly aren’t talking about using the badged Network channels on YouTube or using the Australian network catch-up sites (like Plus7, Fixplay or iView). They’re talking about either downloading television from any number of BitTorrent sites or using a VPN (Virtual Private Network) service so that you can use services like Hulu or the US network catch-up sites.

The benefits of downloading TV are pretty obvious: No ads/easy to skip; watch at your convenience (on the device of your convenience); watch shows hours after they air in the US/UK; get shows well ahead of their air date here in Australia; finish seasons of shows that have been buried or dumped inexplicably by the Aussie networks. The latter has tempted me many times to join the downloading club.

So why can’t we just jump onto the NBC website (for example) and watch full episodes of show from them when we want? The issue begins mainly due to copyright and licensing agreements – a lot of US (& UK) networks block access from outside their countries to their catalogue of shows online as it does/could impact their ability to sell the show into other territories (like Australia). It’s always about the money… and not unreasonably so.

Higher rating TV shows attract better advertising rates, which allows networks to funnel more money into the production of these shows. If they’re good enough, they’ll get sold internationally and gain extra life (and extra funding). A wider market equals a better share of money for the next series for, hopefully, everybody involved. It’s a commercial reality we all understand.

The intertubes - it's a series of pipes

As much as it pains me, it’s for this reason primarily that I choose to not download TV. I want to support the local & international industries by viewing it as it’s aired in my region, indirectly* adding to the ratings and therefore the profitability of the show locally. Sure, I’m gonna miss some gold. Sure, I’m gonna miss the end of some series I like (but I can always buy/hire the DVD set). Sure, I get preview discs from some Australian networks that mean I’m not subscribing to the ratings/advertisment theory, but these aren’t available to the general public and I use them to offer reviews of programs here ahead of time (to promote the show and/or warn you). Sure, I sometimes record TV to catch-up on later, however this is also now included in the ratings recording schedule. In short – I am willing to submit to the metering out of television shows as the network sees fit.

That doesn’t mean I won’t have an opinion on how the networks deliver programming to us (need I speak to you about Glee, Channel 10?). If I did start furiously downloading TV, there’d be some serious impact too – it would take up much more of my life (and I’m treading a fine line now), and it could distance me from the general public when I do want to talk TV. After all (and believe it or not) – the percentage of people who download TV instead of watching it when broadcast on free-to-air or pay TV services is quite low. Single digit low.

Of course I say all of this, and there is still news in the wind of a Australian-localised version of Hulu getting up, and the BBC have announced that they will be making their iPlayer service available globally (admittedly the content for each region will be altered based on deals). I think both of these are great ideas – more of this please, US/UK networks!

I’d appreciate hearing your thoughts, too. Do you download? Do you not? What’s your reasons for either? Am I way off the mark? Am I being too “old media”? Am I not thinking in a 21st century paradigm? Does anyone know what a 21st century paradigm is?

[* = I say indirectly as we are not an OzTAM household. Me watching a show has no direct impact on the ratings – it’s all implied. But you know what I mean. I hope.]


Image sources: TechCrunch, BitTorrent, LifeHacker.