Piracy is the Future of TV: commercial TV sucks relative to illicit services

"Piracy is the Future of Television" is Abigail De Kosnik's Convergence Culture Consortium paper on the many ways in which piracy is preferable to buying legitimate online TV options. None of these advantages are related to price -- it may be hard to compete with free, but it's impossible to compete with free when you offer something worse than the free option. De Kosnik finishes the paper with a series of incredibly sensible recommendations for producing a commercial marketplace that's as good or better than the illicit one. Alas, I fear that TV broadcasters would rather demand special online censorship powers and moan about piracy than fix their products:
A single interface, a single mode of searching, a single way of listing new TV content, and a single file format that plays on a single media player and works on every OS and can be ported to any mobile device: this should be the goal of all legal services. Uniformity in each of these areas across services will make all services of this kind - will make TV viewing on the Internet as a practice - more appealing to all potential users. Once watching TV online can match the simplicity of clicking through channels on a TV set, a larger percentage of the TV viewing population will be interested in using the Internet as their primary interface for television content. And TV pirates will not migrate to legal services unless they are at least as straightforward as pirate protocols. In fact, legal services can model their protocols directly on established pirate standards, as they are hardly secret.7

Offer a Premium Service for Personal Archivists
At the moment, piracy provides the best means for individuals to build personal libraries of television content, for all of the reasons given above. Legal services should consider how to serve this niche even better than pirate communities do. Users interested in creating archives would likely pay a premium if legal services could:

• Offer downloads (both standard definition and HD) of canonical versions of classic and current television programs, either with their original commercials (an important feature for some TV archivists) or commercial-free.

• Make files of new TV episodes available for download immediately after broadcast.

• Persistently "seed" those files (i.e., guarantee that the interested user can always acquire TV files, even older ones, since on pirate networks, older files sometimes are "unseeded" and very difficult to obtain). In fact, the network of collectors could be encouraged to seed files as they come into demand, under some kind of incentive program. (Pirate communities dedicated to "cult" or "art" films often offer rewards to members who are willing to seed requested torrents; for example, if a member seeds a currently unseeded torrent that six other members want, then the community may reward that seeding member with an increase in her maximum permitted download volume for a month).

• Provide collectors with seedbox accounts so that individual users do not have to consume their personal bandwidth in order to download as much content as they wish.

• Offer to host collectors' libraries remotely, and to stream files from those libraries to any machine authorized via login and password.

• Give users the ability to organize their archives as they choose.

Piracy is the Future of Television (PDF) (via O'Reilly Radar)

(Image: Worship Me, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from bdunnette's photostream)


  1. Absolutely. The dedication of the cappers and uploaders on some of the TV torrent sites is amazing. The will root out old VHS tapes at flea-markets, spend money on better storage & video-capture equipment and dedicate huge amounts of their time to it. Why? Because they’re eeeeevil pirates? No, because they really like TV, and no one else is doing it for them.

  2. The present state of broadcast, cable and online television programming has me spending a lot of time scouring the Internet Archive http://www.archive.org making acquaintances and contacts with other like-minded individuals, setting up search algorithms in etsy, eBay and other sites like these.

  3. The BBC iPlayer makes a pretty good job of things in the UK – no adverts, downloadable for 30 days, the same format used by Channel 4, Five.tv and ITV, categorised by type etc. It’s limited to content created by them, but it’s done to suit the user first and other interests after that.

    1. On the other hand the BBC literally force everyone with a TV in the country to pay for the service, whether they want it or not. What if tomorrow the US proposed a government controlled media outlet, that required a fee from every TV owner? Think Cory would be hailing this solution?

    2. the iplayer is nowhere near as good as the pirate alternatives. want to watch it on linux? you can’t. want to play it through your favourite media centre? you can’t. want to hold onto it for more than 30 days? you can’t. want a local copy in case you’re not online? tough.
      i pay for sky tv because it shows most of the tv shows that i’m interested in. however, it’s utter crap when compared to pirate alternatives because a) america gets content earlier, b) the pirates filter out adverts, and c) i’m not limited to watching pirated versions on a single device that’s subject to drm of one form or another. i’d happily drop sky and replace it with a paid for service that worked as well as the pirate versions.
      the thing that most people forget when it comes to the pirate community, though, is that last word: community. it’s the same reason that open source is so popular – the community unites people, and makes them feel valued. consuming tv just doesn’t do that. it’s a bit like buying a dvd and sitting through the piracy adverts: i bought the damn dvd, so shouldn’t i be able to skip past the preaching? after all, if i bought it, *i’m not pirating it* am i?

      1. You can watch iPlayer on linux. I only use Ubuntu and can watch iPlayer fine on it. It’s flash based.

      2. “the iplayer is nowhere near as good as the pirate alternatives. want to watch it on linux? you can’t. ”

        What? The website uses Adobe Flash, which is available for Linux. The application that allows you to download programmes uses Adobe Air, which is available for Linux. Linux is even mentioned on the iPlayer website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/install (the distro version numbers listed are old but it works on newer distros)

    3. The BBC is also paid for out of TV license, which currently costs £145.50. You have to have it (by law) if you use a television to watch broadcast TV in the UK. There is much debate about the influence of the TV license and how it affects the playing field for alternative providers.

      1. the BBC license is what I thought of. But that model puts enforcement responsibility for privately contracted services onto the state. Not ideal.

      2. heng said: The BBC is also paid for out of TV license, which currently costs £145.50.

        Some loose math:

        That converts into $236.63 in US dollars. With approximately 58 million people in the UK, say only 1/4th, or about 14.5 million pay this fee (am I shooting too high?) that comes out to about $3.4 billion US dollars.

        Damn, now I know why the guys on Top Gear drive Porches and Mercedes. (Am I just being an ignorant American here?)

        I would say that this is the reason why the UK doesn’t have any other broadcast channels than the BBC (again, am I just being an ignorant American here?)

        1. From Wikipedia:

          The BBC has the second largest budget of any UK broadcaster with an operating expenditure of £4.26 billion in 2009/10[30] compared to £5.9 billion for British Sky Broadcasting,[31] £1.9 billion for ITV[32] and £214 million in 2007 for GCap Media (the largest commercial radio broadcaster).[33]

          According to the BBC’s 2008–2009 Annual Report,[36] its income can be broken down, as follows:
          £3,493.8 million in licence fees collected from householders;
          £775.9 million from BBC Commercial Businesses;
          £294.6 million from government grants;
          £41.1 million from other income, such as providing content to overseas broadcasters and concert ticket sales;

          The BBC makes a lot of money from selling Top Gear around the world, licensing a magazine, flogging DVDs, reruns on Dave etc. I can’t imagine hiring an airfield for a few days per year and buying a couple of bangers per year costs that much. The presenters also have shows of their own, outside of TG, so it’s likely to be a good deal for them.

          1. Interesting, tw15. I am assuming the UK gets US programming; why is that we only see the BBC in the US? I mean, it is English language programming…

          2. The UK gets the best of US drama – CSI, Mad Men etc., which is why the US networks want to restrict who sees what, where and when. It gives them the ability to sell their programmes overseas. Because of piracy, nowadays the shows are often run at the same time in both countries. Some shows such as House and Boardwalk are on pay TV.

            I guess the BBC is less stressed about piracy as a lot of the expensive shows are international co-productions (they’ve got the money up-front) and they get most of their funding via the licence fee.

          3. The US, as far as I am aware does get other UK made shows. I understand that it showed some Channel 4 comedies, IT Crowd and Father Ted. Canada also showed Black Books so it quite possibly aired south of their border too.
            BSkyB were one of the production companies behind Battlestar Galactica. I’ve seen comment from American websites on the Hogfather which I assumed aired over there as well, so perhaps the two sequels (for tv not in order of books) Postal and the Colour of Magic may to have aired aswell. All 3 produced by BSkyB.
            ITV is crap, but then again you have the X Factor starting, although I believe the production company is Simon Cowells own. American Idol was a port of Pop Idol also shown on ITV.
            Channel 5 is worse than ITV and hopefully nothing it puts out goes stateside.

            Channel 4 also run a Film production company called Film4 Productions which has quite a few high profile films to its name; Four Weddings and a Funeral, In Bruges and 127 Hours.
            So there is a wee bit.

        2. (again, am I just being an ignorant American here?)

          Yes you are.

          We have numerous free-to-air private TV broadcasters in the UK.

  4. I said 15 years ago that I would *gladly* pay for back episodes of TV I want to watch on a per-episode basis.

    Today I will add that Apple has to have no part in it, because I refuse to give them a penny, and have since 2001.

  5. The BBC iPlayer and Watch Live interfaces are actually good and usable. My daughter watches CBeebies lots … on the computer. I’m not sure she’d know what to do with an actual television.

    That said, the BBC knows how crippled the service they’re allowed to offer is, as the legal fiction that streaming isn’t downloading or that DRM works is the only loophole that lets them do even that much. This is a service filled with smart people who get it, and a continuous internal cultural civil war over the past ten years between the digital natives and the media industry natives.

  6. Abigail De Kosnik makes excellent sense. Given my level of disposable income, it’s difficult to imagine circumstances where I’d rather pirate a favorite program than pay a reasonable price for it. It often seems, though, that the content creators/providers must want you to steal from them, because they treat willing buyers so badly.

  7. Blah. Television still exits because of poorly thought through government regulation. There is very real reason to offer any of the radio frequency spectrum to television broadcasts. All of that should be done through the Internet pipes, download the show you want, when you want it. The cynical me says that the only thing keeping TV alive as we know it is the political/corporate media that has found no other way to transmit its message.

    1. I agree it’s a poor medium, but without widely available free internet connections in the home it’s the better alternative. Just cost of equipment (TV and an antenna) and you’re up and receiving. Don’t for get there are still people out there who can’t afford monthly payments to a high speed internet service provider. They still deserve some form of news media and public broadcasting. And going to a library to download is not a proper substitute.

  8. Most important feature for me: Be global! If it’s out in the US, deliver it to the world, if it’s out in the UK, deliver it to the world. No more ‘not available in your country at this time’ messages because those will make people download your shows from other sources! (Likewise for badly dubbed or cut versions that are aired locally, a year or later after the original was released.)

  9. I have not read the whole paper, but from the gist of it, I very much agree … things will and have to change … and I bet most ‘pirates’ are willing to pay a bit, and i think those people who do a great job ripping and uploading for free right now should get a bit of money out of their jobs …

    But for me … I am done with commercials, waiting half a year until a show shows up in whatever area of the world I am, tedious piracy warnings and menus on officially purchased DVDs, DVDs that take way too much shelf space …

    Obviously there is a demand … and well, the supply chain has to adjust …

  10. I shall be entertained, and it shall be convenient! If not convenient, I know not what I might do! Lo, I should rather choose to return to the toil and the drudgery than to sit through a humiliating anti-piracy message!

  11. After working as a TV writer for a couple of years I realized that the people who watch TV like it far more than the people who make it. One writer said, “We just write the crap between the commercials,” and although that may have been a little too cynical, it did feel as though the network (and production company) execs could have been working in any other business, selling any other product. There’s almost no one who goes to work thinking, “How can we do this better.” They have no idea why some shows are popular and others aren’t because they (generally) don’t like any of them.

    So, yes, they will spend far more time moaning about piracy and looking for government protection for their business. Plus, of course, they fear one another’s competition and can’t work together so standardization isn’t considered. For TV execs it isn’t about the shows, it’s about the delivery. They don’t see the people who watch their shows as the ones they need to serve, that’s the banks who control their capital and the shareholders they have to pay.

    1. The truly salient point is:
      “…it did feel as though the network (and production company) execs could have been working in any other business, selling any other product.”
      I get this feeling from most legal content sites, the people at the top have no interest in the media they are pushing or the dynamics. They are simply selling “widgets”,rent seeking, and trying to boost profits for the next few quarters before they leave company for greener pastures.

      On the other hand the “Pirates” are often the most fanatical of fans. In the Anime/Manga community the scanlators and fansubbers are maniacal in their effort with little or no profit. As a result, not only is the work top notch, but the supporting sites are often encyclopaedic in detail with excellent recommendations for related works and the like. Release announcements are often detailed reviews explaining why you must read or watch this work. Contrast this with the lackadaisical blurbs on the legal sites.

      Finally, the other advantage DRM free files (legal or pirate) is the capacity to convert formats freely to allow for playback on a broad variety of devices.

  12. I would like to add to the list of great points made by Abigail De Kosnik – recreate the idea of ‘tv channels’ while embracing the obvious advantages of the internet. One of the _only_ advantages old-fashioned television has over piracy is finding random things while channel hopping.

    What about doing something similar to last.fm’s radios? A randomized mix of tv shows based on your personal tastes (or other people’s, or similar to another show). Never the same episode twice (unless you set some criteria – eg if you haven’t watched it in x months). The ability to insta-skip shows you dont want to watch. Synchronized viewing between friends. etc etc.

    The point being (from the point of view of the money-grabbing networks), the more targeted the shows, the more accurate the advertising, and the more likely people are going to sit through the ads… or alternatively to pay for premium accounts for the privilege of having new interesting content shown to them without ads.

    I imagine that some or all of these ideas have been used in some of the ‘american only’, ‘network-specific’ services out there. But I would personally love to see this combined with the idea espoused above, of a unified, network-agnostic service (where networks, or whoever replaces those stagnant dinosaurs, are paid based on the views/ad-income of their shows).

    As an addition to this (long long term) fantasy, it would be remarkable if those in charge realize that there are actually television watchers outside of america, who would be willing to pay to watch american shows! Weird!

    As Counterglow said, it really seems like these people dont want to let me give them my money.

  13. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, piracy is not going away. The content industries need to learn to co-exist with it. Their efforts to eradicate it have failed and will continue to fail. We have put technology in consumers hands capable of:

    1) Digitizing any content that can be viewed, regardless of anti-copying countermeasures. Such countermeasures are nearly always circumvented, and even when they’re not, there’s always the analog hole. If you can view it, you can digitize it.

    2) Sending digital information from any person on the planet, TO any person(s) on the planet.

    Basically, anything can be digitized and widely distributed and there is no way to stop it without turning the entire internet into a police state, a difficult if not impossible task. Even if the internet were suddenly switched off, people would find a way. BBSes, clandestine WiFi file sharing networks, LAN parties and file swapping meets…

    Bottom line, piracy is not going away. Using the legal system to single out and bully individuals as an “example” to the rest of us pirates has failed, and will continue to fail. Not to mention its moral reprehensibility.

    We’re not afraid, you can’t sue all of us. Also, by the way, ruining single moms financially makes us hate you, and makes us even less inclined to pay you.

    But we’re willing to work with you, if you can relinquish your insane and unrealistic need to monetize every single eyeball and eardrum that caresses your content.

  14. “As Counterglow said, it really seems like these people dont want to let me give them my money.”

    You’re absolutely right, they don’t want to deal with you directly. They want to deal with other large companies – media buyers, cable providors, big ISPs, not millions of individual customers. The idea of standardization across countries, hundreds of networks and thousands of production companies is a long way off. At the finance level this is still a wholesale business with a lot steps to finally get to the retail sales.

    Maybe if the productions were microfinanced by a million investors then they could be sold differently.

    1. Maybe if the productions were microfinanced by a million investors then they could be sold differently.

      That’s one of the most interesting ideas I have read in a while. If the TV studios only deal with huge companies, let’s make a huge company (or something like that) of VIEWERS and then maybe we’ll get the studios to agree to some kind of non-insane delivery method.

      It comes down to Comment #15; They don’t see the people who watch their shows as the ones they need to serve, that’s the banks who control their capital and the shareholders they have to pay.

  15. I see a common misconception repeated here.

    Television viewers are not the customers of the American TV networks. Advertisers are their customers.

    A TV show without commercials may as well not exist. It’s just a drain on the network system. It amazes me that we can even watch such things as The Daily Show the next day without commercials (although they seem to be creeping in).

    There may be some alternate reality (culture?) in which TV shows have intrinsic value, but that’s not the networks’ view of them. They’re just a vehicle to sell cars and pills.

    1. Television viewers are not the customers of the American TV networks. Advertisers are their customers.

      Yes, this. The product being sold is viewers. The shows are nothing more than bait to get viewers into a format that can be sold to advertisers.

    2. “There may be some alternate reality (culture?) in which TV shows have intrinsic value, but that’s not the networks’ view of them. They’re just a vehicle to sell cars and pills. ”

      Not so fast. Why don’t you take a trip to your local toy store tonight and then reconsider this opinion.

      At the very least, add the caveat “tv for adults“.

      Hell, kids’ programming ought to be commercial free for cryin’ out loud, the damn shows are nothing but 30 minute commercials in the first place!

      Even “educational” shows like Sesame Street (which I love) and Dora the Explorer (Which I hate) make mountains of cash off of licensed products.

      Hell I’ve even complained on some occassions that there isn’t enough of it . . . do you have any idea how hard it is to find a damn Muno doll????

  16. Yawn.

    The petulant tone of all these discussions – I’m a pirate because The Man doesn’t give me everything I want, whenever I want – is grating.

    This is entertainment we’re talking about, not health care or clean water.

    Grow up.

    1. That it is merely entertainment was by design.

      TV’s potential for education has never been explored in the USA.

      By design.

      Grow up? You are the one who accepts what you see as what must be….like a child, who has never experienced anything else, and thus cannot conceive of a different way of life, a different way of getting things done.

    2. It’s not a matter of growing up. It’s the free market at work.

      There is a competing product/distributor out there. It has most of the advantages the consumers want (the ability to have it whenever you want and not expire, a price point a lot closer to what they think it’s worth, lack of hassle with formats). It has some features the consumers don’t want (illegality, inability to directly fund the things you like), but for many people, the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. So they make the free market decision to do that.

    3. Thank you for your Hipster input.

      Now, adjust your Ray Ban frames, bowling shirt, fedora, cigarette and can of PBR to their most Hipster/Ironic angles, hop on your scooter and GTFO.

      The grownups are having a conversation.

        1. I don’t think Chris is wrong in responding in the way he has to aldous.

          It is not about getting content for free; it is about getting it in an acceptable way. I would pay if I thought it was worthy – I make it a point to pay for PC games that have content that I deem worth paying for.

          //I became involved in pirating in the early 90s because I had the hardware to crack “uncrackable” port locked things like the original 3DS beta, CAD-key, Ron Scott’s High Res QFX, AT&T Rio and Topaz, etc…

          //I would pay for any of it, if the programs had been reasonably priced, especially 3DS – Topaz simply consumed too much processor time with its Boolean splines

          //I liked how the beta of 3DS help button said “this is help” when you pressed it – that was an “Oh great, that’s excellent help!” moment – it wasn’t easy to explore how to use a program like this, with no books, teachers or background other than toying with AutoCAD

        2. Whilst said in a rather rude fashion, Tucker does have a point re. trying to have a conversation. If this were a public discussion “in the real world”, and someone walked up and started/finished their statement with “Yawn … grow up”, they’re not really contributing to the conversation. Aldous’ point, to my mind, wasn’t particularly on topic anyway.

          Yes, we know it is *just* entertainment, but this is undeniably a pertinent issue within the entertainment industry, and the subject of the current discussion. To simply say that pirates should grow up will not stop people from pirating. Those in this discussion seem to mostly want the best for, and from, their entertainment providers, and if those that are providing it are doing a lousy job at getting their product to you, it is fair to discuss the alternatives, for them and you.

          *Also, I would dispute the “just” sentiment with regard to entertainment. Fine, it may be dumb (or not) enjoyment, but entertainment, in one form or another, has been the cornerstone of society for a long long long time.

          “Entertainment – keeping people from giving up on their mind-numbing existence since 10000BC”

        3. See, I KNOW I’m a jerk. I revel in it. Indeed, I am the stereotypical Masshole (Bostonian). One thing about living in Boston is that we have zero tolerance for bullshit. We segregate our Hipster population in the outer neighborhoods of Allston and Brighton.

          SO when some Hipster slouches into the joint, declares some bullshit about “entertainment” not being the equivalent of health care or clean water, well, he’s a sad Hipster.

          I chill my balls in a gravy boat filled with his tears.

          ’cause that’s how us Massholes roll.

          1. “I revel in it”
            What a terrible thing to be proud of. Even if you are taking the piss, it sounds like you are the kind of person that no one really wants to be around… But then maybe you only act this way on the internet.

            On (non-hipster-related) topic, I agree in part with Aldous that it isn’t particularly helpful to get distracted by technological specifics – this is a broader issue with regard to content providers keeping up with the state of technology in the modern world.

            Also, Blaven hit the nail on the head by saying:
            “I’m not trying to justify pirate sites. I’m saying that perhaps distributors/content developers should spend a little less time whining about pirates and a little more time pleasing their customers.”

            I know their customers are currently advertisers, but if there are no consumers then there will be no advertisers. It is similar to the argument that being selfless is the best way to be selfish in the long term.

          2. You missed the part about “zero tolerance for bullshit”.

            Unless you’re one of those people that actually tolerates bullshit when it’s being flung at you.

            Then, yeah, I can see where you’d maybe think I’m not fun to be around.

          3. Just because you claim to have “zero tolerance for bullshit”, doesn’t mean that you yourself ought to reply with incendiary, unfocused bullshit. There are much better ways to deal with ‘bullshit’.

            It also seems that labeling yourself as a “zero tolerance for bullshit” kind of guy is, firstly, a great way to come across as the kind of person that likes to label themselves, and secondly, implies that you are incapable of entering into an adult discussion because you respond in an agressive, rather than reasoned, fashion to any opinion other than your own.

            I must say that so far your comments on this thread, and on boingboing in general, seem to hold up to this estimation of your character.

            In general terms, if someone is unable to argue to the specific point, and just spouts some ad hominem (perhaps hipster-related) nonsense, it is clear to everyone (excluding said person) that they have lost that argument.

            Anyhoo – sorry for derailing the discussion…

          4. Apparently, not liking bullshit is now wrong?

            Who knew?

            So, when some clown comes in with his “Yawn” and “Grow up” comments, that’s “adult discussion”.

            Huh. Who knew?

            If Hipster Boy had shown up, sans “Yawn” and “Grow up”, he’d have had a better chance at not being mocked.

            But, that was his choice.

            If you want respect, you show it.

            Hipster Boy got what he deserved the moment he opened his virtual mouth.

          5. Don’t fling bullshit in a room full of fans, if you don’t want to get dirty yourself.

    4. You’re wrong. We’re addressing fundamental questions here. We’re a bunch of nerds so we’re framing the discussion in terms of the latest download of “Archer” or whatever, but we’re actually talking about much larger issues, that will affect technological progress and cultural evolution worldwide, here’s a sample of questions that arise when considering these issues, and the different answers you get depending on if you ask the CEO of a big company or an average person.

      How free are innovators to create new products/hack old ones to give them new features?
      Corporations: We tell you what you can do with hardware/software we sell you.
      Us: We do whatever the hell we want with hardware/software you sell us, and distribute the plans too, if you don’t like it, TOO BAD. It’s a free country. If you protect your secrets with a secret code, and we use our cleverness to find that code, it’s too bad you didn’t protect your code better but it’s not our problem. It’s out there on the internet now, live with it.

      If a new product or service results in the obsolescence of an old business model, should that new product/service be outlawed?
      Corporations: Our business models should be protected by law.
      Us: It’s our right to invent hardware or software that puts you out of business and either sell it or give it away.

      Basically, it’s a question of “do we resist or embrace disruptive technology?”.
      Corporations: Resist, for the good of the bottom line
      Mutants: Embrace, for the good of humanity

  17. With a digital TV and an aerial on your roof, you’ll see about 32 different free to air channels in the UK.

  18. If I can’t find what I want to see on the Internet, the only reason is that someone hasn’t finished uploading it yet.

    If there’s something I want to see, and it’s on iTunes, I pay for it. Then I run it through the latest iTunes DRM stripper.

    If it’s on DVD, I buy the DVD. Used/previously viewed if at all possible, though. No need that I can see to give the people who make it difficult to use the DVD the way I want to any more money then absolutely necessary.

    Then it gets ripped and stripped to a hard drive and the physical media gets tossed in a box in the closet.

  19. Another way pirated TV beats commercial TV is accessibility. As a hearing impaired person, I require english subtitles for every TV show I watch. No subs, no entertainment. While pay TV gets better at captioning every year, there’s still a lot of content that’s not captioned, most especially on DVD releases. A show may have been captioned when it aired, but the DVD will have no captions. Hulu sometimes takes a few days to a week to add captioning. On the other hand, community subbers have subs up within hours, for almost every show airing. And they do it as volunteers.

  20. I am an engineer/editor working in the industry, and I have sailed the seas of Pirate Bay. I consider it a professional obligation. I cannot articulate how right many of De Kosnik’s points are. However, I must disagree with a few things.

    First, the use of the term “television” must die, and the use of it in place for what is obviously not TV should also be abandoned. As De Kosnik mentions, it is not a TV we are watching it on (at least most of those folks my age and younger – many of whom have never owned a TV and never will), and calling it TV is bit like asking the gas station attendant to revulcanize my tires. De Kosnik acknowledges this but doing so and then sticking with the term “TV” is actually part of the problem.

    In my profession, calling an episodic series a “TV series” when that is just one of the ways the show gets to the viewers means you are old, and probably on your way out. Shows are produced today using means radically different than they were 20 years ago, and the concept that the means of distribution has changed just as much has not been grasped by those that do not understand that the current state of media tech lends itself to a service driven market (instead of it being paid for by advertisers), meaning people can now watch what they want, when they want.

    Many that already pay to much for an internet service provider (another monopoly that needs to be dealt with before the tech can really mature) realize that it may be preferable and cheaper to spend a few bucks every month to access what they want to watch rather than carry around all that data.

    That is another issue I have with the theory that De Kosnik suggests. I personally had a huge library of media, plus backups, before services like Netflix , Hulu, and Pandora came along, and I can easily say that paying for their services is much cheaper and easier than keeping all this stuff myself. Seriously, if I am gonna pay for a premium service, why should I have archive the stuff myself?

    Also, the paper makes an argument that downloads are superior in quality and consistency than streams, which is also necessarily true. Downloads can be corrupted just as easily as stream can be glitched. Downloads take time. You cannot always instantly watch a download. Compresssions on downloads are not necessarily standardized, and pirating the show you want is not nearly as constantly easy as the paper makes it out to be for many reasons (duplicates, falsies, and viruses just to name a few). Quality is just on part of the equation, convenience (and cost is part of that) is another variable that is just as important, if not more so. Remember when BetaMax lost to VHS?

    Without a doubt De Kosnik has hit on some real important issues when it comes to the way these things need to be approached. Five years ago, this paper would have been right on the money: piracy was to be the most useable, feature rich option. But no longer.

    One more note: something about Tudou, one of China’s largest video sites, should be have been mentioned, and I am shocked that it isn’t. I was watching shows on Todou years before many of the other popular sites appeared, and it actually hosts the videos on the server, unlike other torrent sites which just has pointer info. My guess is that Tudou has directly pirated way more than Pirate Bay ever has.

  21. The author ignores television’s big advantage which is channel surfing to encounter new content of interest. Occasionally, I will discover a show that is interesting by browsing and looking through channels -something that doesn’t happen when I have to search out programs by title for download. Yes, I could wade through millions of hours of youtube clips by searching for particular search terms, but, then I also have to wade through all of the videos of kids goofing around in their back yard or ranting about designer sunglasses and such.

  22. She’s pretty right-on about TV piracy, but she left out the most important part: The set-top box to watch the stuff on. I know the kids today love sitting in front of their computers and watch video for hours, but I hate that. Give me a media center and a flatscreen to connect it to and I’m a happy guy.

  23. There is so little worth seeing on television in the first place that I don’t see the point of saving the form. There is the occasional series that is genuinely worth watching and owning (once every few years something pops up that one might want to take time out to watch, rather than watching purely out of boredom), but the odds of a worthwhile professionally produced television show aren’t any better than the odds of a worthwhile amateur-produced television show. This is unsurprising, since the function of a television program is to distract the viewer long enough to be exposed to the advertisements.

    I don’t expect that the industry will save itself, or even try to save itself. It has lived too long without outside competition, and has grown fat and lazy. It will underestimate all threats. It will eat itself.

  24. An example of broadcaster fail was the 2011 Oscars. ABC was selling a “behind the scenes” package for about $5. I would have paid that much to watch the regular show in Canada. CTV didn’t livestream either. I ended up watching a pirate version off of Ustream – with German commercials. I watched all the commercials so I wouldn’t miss anything. Like many Canadians, I don’t have a TV so if I want to watch current shows, then I have to find pirate channels. By not offering legal alternatives, broadcasters are pushing me towards piracy.

  25. Weird; this plays somewhat into what I was thinking about the PBS situation. I don’t know how many people would be willing to do it, but I wouldn’t mind contributing to my local uni if they devoted bandwidth for a PBS bittorrent feed, for Miro, Google TV, Boxee or what have you. Come to that, they have a few local things I wouldn’t mind subscribing to. I’ve got Boxee running on my MythTV machine, and as far as I’m concerned, that kind of service is what’s going to kill TV as we know it.

  26. Hopefully my previous comment will show up soon; otherwise, this one won’t make sense.

    I just noticed that PBS is already on Boxee. Silly me. I have no idea what their distribution model is on there, whether it’s just pulling in Web streaming feeds or what it is. Still, the notion that services like Bittorrent can help distribute the costs of, um, distribution, versus the attitude that Bittorrent is a piracy-only protocol and therefore must be banned under the false pretense that it chews up too much bandwidth, well, it’s something we’ll have to tackle in the future if we’re going to lick the bandwidth issue.

  27. I think the bottom line is that we are seeing a fundamental shift in media, much like the printing press.

    1. Well, we’re seeing a fundamental shift in the way media is distributed, but so far we’re not seeing any changes in the way it’s financed or produced, at least in terms of movies and TV. Until then, not much will really change.

  28. Can’t be done. We can’t even post popular TV commercials we made a few years back, because we can’t get the royalties worked out for internet distribution with the actors, music licensing, etc.

    It may have worked 60 years ago when the studio owned the content lock stock and barrel, but now with everyone having a finger in the pie – not so much.

  29. Seriously? No one’s going to call tw15 out on calling CSI, ‘the best of US drama’. Is it because modern drama is that sad or are people just willing to let it slide?

    I think the paper nails the issue. The cost of piracy (risk of litigation, viruses, etc..) is much, much less than the cost of legal access in most cases. Many content producers, publishers , be it video, music, or game, are actively punishing paying customers in their War on Piracy. Particularly considering that pirates, by and large, would not buy said content anyway. Like the Cold War, the only people suffering from the DRM War are the legal consumers.

  30. Totally agree with this article. As an example of my own, I really hate the interface on Hulu. Their bloated website runs like a dog on my PC, which is an old XP box I got for $150 just for the purpose of connecting to my TV. Not to mention the confusing interface makes it harder than necessary to find what I want. And as a further annoyance, after an episode is complete, it starts autoplaying the next video of extras or outtakes or whether or not you want them.

    Netflix has problems too. Their interface is also cumbersome, and in the video mode I have the PC set to so I can blow up the words large enough to read from my sofa, the side scrolling selections get cut off on the ends, so I have to constantly use bottom scroll bar to see everything.

    And both Netflix and Hulu were unavailable on my recent trip to Mexico due to licensing crap.

    Contrast all this to the pirate station channel 131. The menu system is clear and easy to read, and there website is simple and doesn’t bog down slower PCs. And it works in Mexico.

    I don’t even mind watching the relatively few commercials on Hulu (unlike cable tv with 22.5 mins/hr of ads—that just isn’t worth it). What bothers me is the other flaws which are quite easily fixable.

  31. I have long suspected that the media companies intentionally cripple their online distribution, so that they can drive them into piracy and then sue them.

    It’s a funny business model. But how else to explain their utter incompetence?

  32. ky, gld t s y grwnps hv srtd ths kntty prblm t.

    OF COURSE it’s easier to pirate creative work than to pay for it, just as it’s easier to, oh, kidnap a sailor on the open sea and demand a ransom for his hide than it is to build a functioning civilization with commerce and its attendant trappings, like ports and services and laws and gainful employment and things.

    Pirate sites don’t pay the creators of the content their users are taking. There is no infrastructure that needs to be amortized, no Guilds (of writers, screen actors, directors, etc. etc.) to be negotiated with, no residual payments to be tracked, and on and on and on. Torrent sites are efficient and comprehensive aggregators with simple interfaces because THAT IS ALL THEY HAVE TO BE. There are no market forces, because there is no market. There is no market because there is no law.

    ‘Content’ is creative WORK. Work costs, and the structures that exist to recoup those costs (and, yes, turn a profit for The Man) have evolved, piecemeal, over 100 years or so. Despite what many people here would like to believe, this is not only a technological problem. It is not even primarily a technological problem. So I’m sorry Hulu didn’t work while you were on vacation in Mexico, and that you can’t run iPlayer on Linux, but…really? Don’t you have something better to whine about? Like maybe the fact that your mom’s job is about to disappear?

    I’ll say it again: grw p. Go make your own ‘content’ with great stories and high production value, or at the very least embrace the anarchic position and cop to the idea that you like getting expensive stuff for free. But please spare me the self-righteous and wholly bogus justifications for your piracy.

    1. I would say that laws regarding the spread of information within the population of a democratic society are very much something worth “whining” about!
      Also, there is an extremely well developed “market” among “pirates”… popular files have more seeders than unpopular ones. The scarce resources within the system are allocated by the collective decisions of multiple self interested agents. I’m no economist but I’d take that as a pretty decent definition of a “market”.

    2. “So I’m sorry Hulu didn’t work while you were on vacation in Mexico”

      Admittedly sorting out international licensing might be hideously difficult, but the broader point is that many of Hulu’s problems could be easily fixed if they would just listen to viewers. This is completely separate from the cost to generate content or acquire it by legitimate means. Hulu doesn’t have a crappy interface because of licensing problems and residual negotiations, it has a crappy interface because they didn’t put the proper effort into it.

      It almost seems that Hulu and other legitimate sites either don’t care about developing online viewing as a valid business model, or are hoping that if they make the experience sufficiently painful then viewers will just give up and stick with cable. The longer they avoid embracing the technology and improving the user’s experience, the more viewers they are going to lose to pirate sites or other competing forms of media (of which there is no shortage of in this era).

      I’m not trying to justify pirate sites. I’m saying that perhaps distributors/content developers should spend a little less time whining about pirates and a little more time pleasing their customers.

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