We’re watching way too much illegal TV

Aussies are the best in the world – or at least the Commonwealth – at lots of things. But we don’t give much recognition to another area in which we’re way out in front – illegal TV downloads.

A study by Envisional, a consultancy firm, last year found that Britain was No. 1, with Australia in second place.
Per capita, though, we’re miles ahead. Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!
Blame the appalling scheduling of hit US shows such as CSI and The West Wing, which forces addicts to turn to dodgy, painful and frustrating services such as eDonkey or BitTorrent to get their fix. It’s tragic. Just as I forgive junkies so desperate for heroin that they smash my car window, it’s hard not to pity those so eager for an update from Wisteria Lane that they’ll bother spending a day downloading Desperate Housewives.
It’s futile to stop people from violating copyright like this. Shutting down Napster, for example, has simply led to the development of unblockable alternatives. And when Metallica whinged about copyright infringement, they came over as spoilt brats, not the victims of a terrible crime.
The solution is to offer cheap, convenient legal alternatives. People who are addicted to downloading The Daily Show, for example, are going to watch it regardless. American networks have realised this and have worked with Apple to develop legal alternatives. Apple’s iTunes Store now sells many hit shows – and The Daily Show offers 16 episodes for a lousy $9.99.
Take a show I’m working on, The Chaser’s War On Everything. It screens at 10.15pm on Fridays, when many people are out. So we’re inundated with requests for copies, but there is no legal way to provide them. (No one uses VCRs any more, it seems.) So others have stepped in and our show is widely available on BitTorrent. We’d be better off selling cheap copies.
The TV industry needs a new system where it earns less from advertisers (Channel Nine is off to an excellent start) and more directly from consumers, who’ve spoken loud and clear. They want new episodes, without ads, as soon as they become available. And they’re going to get them whether the networks like it or not. So, as any drug dealer knows, they may as well make a buck out of having a desperate, captive audience.

Photo – the cast of Desperate Housewives waiting on eDonkey.

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