Monday, April 09, 2007

The TV Writer and Bit Torrent: a moral question... kind of

I'm a pretty law abiding guy.

Except when I think the laws are dumb. Even then I don't go out of my way to flaunt my lawless ways. But there's a moral question that's been bugging me lately and I'd like to hear what other people think.

I have a friend...

And like many of you he's a Bit Torrentin' fool. For the most part it's been shows there is little or no chance he'd ever see here in Canada anytime soon. Particularly shows from Britain that weren't on BBC Canada, and that he couldn't find at the local video store. Then it was shows that were mentioned at a story meeting that he hadn't seen that were on HBO (Movie Central) and they weren't out on DVD yet and he didn't have "the cable". And then, it was just episodes of shows that he happened to miss during their first run... and now it's anything at all.

He has no illusions that what he's doing is legal. But he believes in Karma. He knows he'll have to pay... some day, some how.

And this is the thing: for the most part he does eventually pay for stuff he likes. The pleasure of watching some downloaded file on his computer doesn't compare to watching it on HD with his digital cable... or on DVD. So when he finds something he likes... like Six Feet Under and Deadwood a couple years ago... or Rome, Life of Mars, and Extras more recently... he doesn't mind coughing up the bucks for the DVD so he can watch it in it's full glory.

And today: it happened... he saw his own show being bit torrented... and what did he feel? Guilt? Resentment? Outrage? Nope... it was Pride.

Somebody... a fan presumably, cared enough to digitize and upload it... it's being seeded out there by a few curious viewers who maybe heard something about it but never got around to seeing it. And maybe they'll give it a chance.

There is a part of him that wonders if he, or more specifically his livelihood, is being threatened by the practice. After all, the show is a product. It is part of a business in an industry and profits are what motivate the decisions of the investors. But is this cutting into the industry's profits? I mean really? In the short term, there's no doubt. Viewership is down and therefore so is ad revenue. On the other hand these are also the guys that own and operate the companies that enable people like my friend to download the programming in the first place. And in the long term... isn't it actually more likely the industry will make money by creating content for not just one medium but several at the same time.

They irony is his show is on a network that makes the episodes online available to anyone (with a PC) who live in the country. So the people downloading the show are probably outside the country... but wouldn't it make more sense to make the show available to anyone around the world and talk with an smart advertising agency to find some way to get ad revenue by customizing the content to the local viewer?

It's just the old model of exchange that is dying. And people like my friend are just helping put it out of its misery.



gdott said...

I certainly had my bit torrenting judgments called into question when I was made aware that the show had been posted... Now unlike your friend Dave (cough, cough) I do not bit torrent. I never have. But being confronted with this made me consider my attitudes. What is the harm? It should only be good for the show shouldn't it? Perhaps more people from around the globe will see and order.

My only concern was not that it was 'a' show but it was, according the friend who notified me, episode 11 season 2. That got me going a bit because that episode has yet to air. I went to the site in the link and signed up (because you have to in order see the available content), and I couldn't make heads or tails out of the link title. So I have no idea what episode it really is. So David, perhaps your friend (cough) could download it or enlighten us as to what episode it is. If it is ep 11 or 12 of this season then it has other implications.

gdott said...

Hey David, nevermind. Episode 11 did air. It was ep 12 and 13 I was concerned about.

Dave said...

hey gee-man!

it's also interesting how some folks to create buzz around a show. "Studio 60" allegedly was leaked into Bit Torrent to get people excited about the show.

and for me, there been a new show produced in canada that's been blogged about recently that won't air in canada for a few months yet, but is airing already in the states. i want to see it, but i want to support the industry too.

but what's more supportive? watching a BT'd version and, if I like it, build a little excitment about it with my friends, etc. so that when the show does come on somebody might go: hey i heard about this!

or do i wait, maybe catch it, maybe not, but seeing as i'm not a Neilson Viewer, will my watching make any difference to the ratings any way?

Diane Kristine said...

Alex Epstein had an interesting post on this too. What I said, and still think, is that while I feel a tiny twinge of guilt at illegal downloading, I care less than I maybe should because I don't think the industry has done enough fast enough to meet the demands of online distribution.

Plus, my downloading has had a positive effect on my overall TV watching and TV on DVD buying. I've been able to be a more loyal viewer of certain TV shows now that I don't need to be lost if I've missed an episode. I saw A Bit of Fry and Laurie through bittorrent because it wasn't available here, but when the DVDs finally came out, I bought them. I watch House live, but used to download it too so I could rewatch before I bought the DVDs. Now, I keep the PVR recording. Why is one wrong and the other isn't?

In many if not most cases, that kind of downloading has the effect of unintentional marketing for the industry, and ends up being a benefit to artists and copyright holders.

I realize that all could come across as rationalization, but I'm not a Nielsen household and I don't sit through commercials when I watch a show on TV either, so I don't see the harm.

Kelly J. Compeau said...

It really burns my bottom that there are shows that air in the U.S. and Britain that may never air here, or will start to air about a year or so. That sucks! I want to watch Blood Ties along with my friends in the States. I want to discuss eps of Stargate Atlantis with fellow fans online, but we're a season and a half behind here in Canada. And as for hit shows like Heroes or Battlestar Galactica, if I miss an episode (due to a friken power/cable outtage) I can't view it on-demand at the or website because their systems refuse to recognize me (re: you don't live in America, so you're not important to us).

It's no wonder folks decide to illegally download shows via bit torrent.


Dave said...

so kelly's my id, diane's my ego and gary's my superego. check.

Kelly J. Compeau said...

I've been called many things over the years. Someone's "id" is defintiely a first. I'm honoured to have such an important role in your psyche, Dave. Thank you. :-)

Halifax TV/Film said...

Hi there,

Can't resist getting in on this topic. Downloading tv shows has not cast a shadow yet, one that the industry is talking about publically anyway.

But, not too long ago the music industry was dismissing downloading music as a fad. Then they said it was "costing" them millions and millions of $. In actuality, it wasn't costing them. Cost means to lose money. They just weren't stepping up to the trough to get their share of this new stream of revenue. e.g. if i wanted one John Cougar song that I liked, I would have to go buy the CD for $20. A CD that had already paid for itself and reaped them millions of dollars when it was first released and costs them less than a dollar to duplicate and ship to the store. If, that store had it. So if I didn't want to pay $20 for a CD or $2/song, I could download it where I could?

The internet! That big status quo spolier! And as a bonus they didn't charge me! Did I feel guilty? A little bit but I sure as hell wasn't going to pay $20 for one song or even one album, especially if I'd already paid for on an albulm, then tape (for cruising in the car) and then the CD!

And considerin the music was bought and paid for years ago anyway, John would probably see only some of it. There's a reason recording artists always have to sue their record companies; they get ripped off!.

So now the record companies see thousands of $20's drifting out of their grasp. Response? Take the people who set up the websites to court and sue little Johnnie Butthead, age 12, from Iowa. This was posturing pure and simple in an effort to scare Mr. and Mrs. Lunchbucket from downloading. Status quo, for the record companies, bread and butter for 80 years and damn it, we're not changing now.

Anyway, So the battle began, between guys setting up sites in their parents basements to high priced lawyers of the RIAA. Compromise? Apple saw an opprtunity and exploited it. 99 cents (i can't believe there's no symbol on my keyboard for this) a song. I pay it and it's a fair price.

And movies? When video tapes began selling, Disney said they would never release their classics on video. They were going to continue to show Cinderella in theatres every seven years the way they've done since it was first realeased. Until they saw the sales figures of other videotapes. Now 20, 30 years later we're being given Cinderella III, (the revenge!, I kid), a straight to DVD (for some reason more expensive than tape, as if the kids will scoff at the picture quality). This is the business model, any business

Now for TV. A little bit of Fry and Laurie? Love to see it. Where can I? Oh, not being broadcast here? Not on CD? Not in Halifax anyway. sigh. Guess I'll have to read my books. At least I paid for them. If only I could see it, I would be glad to pay for the privlege. I would even watch the commercials that were originally aired, except there were no commercials and british products are darn hard to find here. Never mind that if it was aired here I would tape it and zip through the commercials anyway. (The big marketing/advertising firms also feel their spidey sense tingling. the old model of commercials between segments of a tv show is now easily circumvented through tape, tivo and the lazy man's way, clicking to another tv show until the commercials over. Their solution? product placement e.g. Staples in The Office. I don't really mind this because when appropriate, it lends an air of realism. Only if, during Law and Order they have Marissa Haggirty humping a can of pepsi would I have a problem. Or the guy.

So, until tv comes up with a model where they can make money (really, somebody's still making money off of Monty Python and I bet you the lion's share goes to the distributor), watch and enjoy.

It's only if you're video taping Grindhouse (God, why would you?) in the theatre and selling copies on the street that you're invading on any body's turf. And really Quentin Tarintino doesn't need another Porsce anyway.

The Source

Halifax TV/Film said...

I really apologize for the speeling and grammmmaticel errors. I'm usually better than that.

The Source

Derek Martin said...

Many DVD players these days can be tweaked to watch British stuff, and most computers can handle it too. Then hop on over to or wherever and get your fix.

David Spencer said...

I'm an American viewer, and a writer (mostly for the musical theatre) but like a lot of you I download stuff I can't get in the States -- yet, ever or without cuts. (Recently: ReGENESIS S3, DOCTOR WHO S3, LIFE ON MARS S2, CHARLIE JADE and THE COLLECTOR). I think ripping exclusive content off a DVD is worth a debate on morals and ethics, but after a teevee show has aired, whether or not one has to pay for the content provider, I think uploading is the global equivalent of, "Oh, did you miss it? Well, I taped it. Here."

That said, there's this er, um, friend of mine who cannot for the life of him find any sites with ROBSON ARMS torrents. Can anybody direct, uhh, him to a few?

(By the way, to make this issue even MORE interesting ... it can indeed, as stated, be more fun to watch shows on your TV system than your computer, thus making DVD buying worthwhile. But I have discovered it's stupidly simple to create DVDs from downloaded vid files. e.g. I'm a Machead and my basic DVD burning utility is Toast. I open it, select the video tab, drag the files into the field [the number of files determines the playback speed and quality of resolution -- DVD-Rs work like VCR cassettes in that regard] rename the files if I like, then select menu options [yes, automatic menu-making too] press record and BAM. The frills are less pretty, and you may use twice the complement of disks if you can only record reliably to single-layer blanks. But if a given episode file isn't over-compressed [i.e. download not the 130 MB version of ReGENESIS useful for iPod-type viewing, but the 350 MB one, whose 100% view opens on a much wider canvas] the end result is functionally indistinguishable from the commercial release.)

Anonymous said...

Try for Robson Arms season 1