Figures from TorrentFreak show that large groups of people download copies of TV shows, even when legitimate distribution channels exist.
It's no surprise that people will download things from dodgy BitTorrent trackers if they can't get it free elsewhere – but it's perhaps a little shocking that they'll do so even if they can
That's the interesting revelation that Wired's
Betsy Schiffman has come up with: people will pirate even if there's a legal, free
Citing figures from pro-filesharing site TorrentFreak
, Schiffman states that almost a million people downloaded illegitimate copies of the first episode of the new Prison Break series in the twenty-four hours after it aired on the US Fox TV network. This, in itself, isn't surprising – although the sheer number, representing a figure of around one-sixth as many as actually tuned in to watch the broadcast. What you may
find surprising is that they didn't have to: both Fox's own website and commercial video streaming site Hulu.com had the episode available for immediate, free
viewing – albiet with a few adverts.
So, with legal options in place – and that won't have you waiting for that knock at the door from the filesharing police – why so many downloads? I'm sure for some it's a convenience thing – it's one thing to be able to watch a badly encoded Flash video streamed via your web-browser, and quite another to download a top-quality MKV file and watch it on your big-screen TV. Some will have just been looking to avoid the adverts – no matter how few or how subtle, some people object strongly to advertising as a valid method of funding a production. Perhaps the biggest reason, however, is that – to put it in Schiffman's words - “file sharing is [a] hard habit to break
In other words, once a person gets used to downloading rips of popular TV programs from sources such as BitTorrent and binary newsgroups, they stop looking for a legitimate source. They have a solution, it works, why go elsewhere?
This impetus towards piracy is, largely, something the content producers are largely responsible for: it's been clear for years now that consumers want high-quality, convenient, DRM-free downloads. As the industries involved – film, music, and television – have been traditionally reluctant to allow this to happen, the consumers have switched to alternative sources legal or otherwise. Convincing people to switch back is going to be a lot harder than providing them with what they wanted in the first place.
The figures might not lie – a sixth of the 'legitimate' audience is certainly not to be sniffed at – but it is worth mentioning that the one million downloads were worldwide
. Another common reason for an individual to download a popular TV show is the tendency to air a given show in the US months ahead of other countries; downloading a ripped copy allows a Lithuanian Prison Break fan to get his fix far earlier than via legitimate sources.
But, where to for the industry? Having allowed the filesharing sites to flourish – and give the consumers a taste of what digital media could
be like – it's going to be a hard slog to fix the legitimate distribution channels.
Do you download TV shows in preference to watching them live, and if so why? Share your thoughts over in the forums