© 2011 Josh escalator

Internet Broadcasting

Piracy. It used to be something special.

A merchant vessel, Donnely’s Vow, heavy with trade goods, bobbing in the vast expanse of the ocean’s night, sails puffed by the icy northern gales, moon and stars obscured by rolling clouds, glides along.  Suddenly, the darkness is illuminated by a flaming volley of coin-shot from the thundering mouth of a cannon, not 30 yards away.  The God’s Wounds, helmed by the fearsome privateer Marrakesh Jack, has just set the sails of the Vow ablaze, and panic has erupted as fast as the flames.  Shouts of  ” Give ’em to the sharks!” and “At ’em you dogfish”, probably some hearty Arrrrs and ayes of enthusiastic agreement, were swiftly followed by bloodshed and the liberation of ‘loot’.

Today’s piracy is almost as exciting.  Tucked away behind a sturdy firewall and a relay of proxy servers and anonymous ip addresses, the pirate band (or individual) known among some circles as “EZTV” braves the vast expanse of international cyberspace to plant his first seed, a high quality recording of the latest episode of “The Big Bang Theory”, only 4o minutes after it’s television appearance, nearly six thousand ‘leechers’ descend upon the seed like sharks after a wounded manatee. After a few moments of thrashing, the file has been successfully replicated and distributed to thousands of seeders who fill the ocean with identical copies of the wounded manatee, effectively feeding an entire population of hungry sharks.

Okay, so confused metaphor aside, it’s not actually exciting at all.  In fact, the only thing potentially exciting about torrents and piracy is how incredibly fast and efficient it is.  If the intended distributors of this content were anywhere near as effective and efficient, there would be no need for piracy.  The major difference between traditional cutlass and pistol piracy, and the digital piracy any tech-savvy 10 year old engages in is well, everything from intent to execution.

File sharing is the politically-correct term among those who dislike their comparison to bloodthirsty and cruel scurvy-rife buccaneers, and a bit more appropriate of a description for what’s actually happening.  Nothing is actually being ‘stolen’, as in, nothing is being taken away from it’s intended recipient.  Johnny Subculture can still plop down on the couch at 8PM EST and tune into CBS to get his fix of the American Idol alternative; the Dr34D P1r4t3 R0B3R7z is merely hurling an identical copy of Episode “The Barbarian Sublimation” out into the ether, where it will happily multiply so long as there’s an interest, and be handily enjoyed by an audience that doesn’t quite enjoy sitting on a couch at 8PM EST.

Now, the argument against sharing television episodes is that the primary source of revenue for the programs is the advertising revenue it will earn for CBS during its 30 minute timeslot, through the placement of long blocks of 30 second commercials  between the ‘acts’ of the episode, and our pirate, who seems to be more Robin Hood than Blackbeard, also happens to be removing the commercials from the episode in addition to unlawfully distributing it for free. When you torrent your Big.Bang.Theory.S02E04.Xvid-LOL.avi  the creators, writers, actors, studio, network, and miscellaneous investors are not benefiting in the slightest for their effort, unless you count the potential for added visibility to increase a shows fan base, or the convenient ability they provide for the average viewer to ‘get up to speed’ on the episodes they might have missed prior to the one about to air, actually making them more likely to watch the episode live; but these seem more like the defensive excuses of eye-patched and peg-legged criminals, like lost producer Jesse Alexander

One could argue that their availability on BitTorrent actually helped ‘Lost’ and ‘Heroes’ to build a stronger fanbase. With torrents, no-one has to miss an episode anymore which keeps the fans more engaged. So called “pirates” advertise the shows to their friends, or write about it on their blogs. Accordingly, when we asked Jesse Alexander whether he thinks that BitTorrent might have helped to reach a broader audience, he answered with a clear cut “Yes”.   -TorrentFreak.com interview with Jesse Alexander

Of course, distributors like the networks and the entire conventional broadcasting model employed by our number #1 content distributor, Television, dislike the fact that billions of exchanges have occurred without any financial renumeration nearly as much as the impending truth that such exchanges are the first signs of obsolescence in their system.  What they have refused to do, evidently, is adapt. Currently, penalties for infringing upon the soveriegn territory of a television distributor could earn you as much as $3.3m in fines and statutory damages.  For leaving the latest ‘Happy Endings’ or ‘Wildcats’ in your share folder might cost you a few hundred thousand.   Scary shit.  Does it discourage you from downloading “s07e20.Last Temptation.avi” to get your House Fix?  Evidently not.

So if obscenely huge fines aren’t a successful deterrent; either because they are typically thrown out of court or avoided altogether by some simple web-hackery, then the black tide won’t subside, and the networks will continue to whine. Enter Hulu, almost.  While Hulu may serve as a convenient and legal alternative to filesharing; it’s still hampered by regional restrictions, and hamstrung by the typical 1-day delay between live airdate and hulu availability.  A study I just performed on myself a few minutes ago determined that people (%100 of those surveyed) are more likely to sit through commercials on Hulu than on DVR’ed videos, which suggests that sponsors should actually be encouraging content providers to premiere episodes on Hulu rather than live television, where a dvr and a 4 minute late start (ample time to prepare a peanut butter and jelly sandwich) translates into ad-free viewing with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

So where the fuck am I headed with all this? Right here.  The traditional broadcast model based on limitations of schedule and timeslot are becoming obsolete.  Internet broadcasting is more efficient, and has the capacity to reach a broader audience; and filesharing, specifically by torrent, is the fastest and most efficient form of ‘broadcasting’. The problem is, the content isn’t being provided by the intended distributor, it’s being pirated and distributed by the audience; and it’s the easiest problem to fix.  If the distributors would create and share their own files, the file sharing community would no longer be ‘pirating’ but ‘facilitating distribution’.   The advantages provided to distributors are immediately evident, they cease to exist entirely.  The advantages to the actual content providers become even more evident, by becoming the distributors of their own content, they can assure a maximized audience, and deliver precisely the messages they intend their content to contain.  Advertising revenue that would have traditionally been earned by the networks for broadcasting popular content, would instead be poured into the production in the form of product placement deals and, I’m sure, a number of other innovative and audience-annoying ways.

The point is, television networks are going to have to abandon their ineffective attempts at deterrence and instead innovate, or they’ll go the way of Tower Records, instead of the gold-paved path of iTunes.



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