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Viewers prefer file-sharing

Viewers prefer file-sharing

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 alternative.

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.

39 Comments

Discuss in the forums Reply
Jaguar_Infinity 4th September 2008, 13:23 Quote
I like BBC's new Iplayer and the fact you can watch the stuff on their website without having to download their client. This was great for me while i was out of internet range with work etc as i could get back and watch the programs i missed, from the apprentice to the olympics. I think its great, the problem is i can't pick what i want to watch when i want to watch it and its also limited to the BBC's own coverage. Watching the aprentice a few days late is fine but i can't just pick a Doctor Who episode they havn't aired within a week. I also can't watch episodes they buy in from the US like Heroes, so if i want to watch a TV program i've already paid for by TV lisence and its not on Iplayer what options are there? This is where i think many people would download.

BBC have lead the way in the UK for internet viewing but it still has a way to go imo
bowman 4th September 2008, 13:24 Quote
Fox and Hulu are for Americans only. Fox makes sure no foreign networks air the show as early as they do.

Do you really need any more answers? Prison Break is as popular here in continental Europe as any other place.

Besides, torrents are just fast and not necessarily for pirates alone. Ask Blizzard Entertainment, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation why they use torrents for legitimate transfers.

I have yet to see anything like Steam for movies and TV shows. iTunes is a pile of poo. Once someone fills this market gap I might look at it..
liratheal 4th September 2008, 13:26 Quote
It's all very well to have things like hulu, but services like that seem to suffer from a common theme - Lack of desire to be global.

The only way services like hulu are going to beat piracy is if they offer the good quality download, the browser streaming, and are global.

That's never going to happen, though.
ChaosDefinesOrder 4th September 2008, 13:27 Quote
I personally prefer downloading TV episodes because I like to "archive" them. I like having a complete set that I can go back to later and watch whole series back to back. Online streams generally only stay there for a short while, except in the case of series stacking on iPlayer introduced recently.

There's also the significantly better quality of torrent rips - I tried to watch the penultimate episode of the most recent season of Dr Who on iPlayer and was appauled at the quality - especially when viewed full screen! Gave up after 2 minutes and torrented it - much better quality!
Delphium 4th September 2008, 13:34 Quote
If its anything like the quality of 4on demand, where I was watching a tv show (IT Crowd) via it, and the quality a bit well ropey and broken in the middle to display some non skipable adds, but ok its free.
Go round to my friends whom torrented the IT Crowd, and instantly can see the difference in quality being better, while not interupted with adds, admitedly I think they must have been editted out, but still, I can see why someone would choose to torrent instead of stream it via the legal services provided.

It was the same story for Dr Who when using bbc iPlayer.
Bob1234 4th September 2008, 13:39 Quote
The only way they will stop a lot of the downloading because you either missed it and the alternative is crappy or because you want to "archive" it for later is to change their distribution/licencing models.

Seen a film in the cinema? ok, you get a free copy of the basic, no frills DVD edition.
Watched something on BBC? ok, free no frills DVD for you, as long as you have a TV licence of course.
oasked 4th September 2008, 13:39 Quote
As everyone else has said, its a matter of quality and regions. Most of the world can't use those America only websites, so they download the files from torrent sites instead.
steveo_mcg 4th September 2008, 13:48 Quote
There is also convenience, my geexbox in the livingroom isn't connected to the web so its easier to torrent things and play it on the tv than sit at my monitor.
Xir 4th September 2008, 13:59 Quote
...the compare a low quality stream to a high quality download, and wonder that people don't use the stream?

Okay, I'm only guessing its a low quality stream, as most streams are either low quality, or fairly prone to stuttering. Something that doesn't happen to an offline, downloaded file.
Venares 4th September 2008, 14:10 Quote
It fairly simple realy. I want to watch what I want to, When I want to.
And as others have pointed out above, untill such site offer Full Resoulution worldwide downloads I will continue to utilise torrent to watch my shows.
Leitchy 4th September 2008, 14:11 Quote
As Jaguar said, I really like the BBC's Iplayer and from what I read in there blog (sorry no link), they plan over the next year or so to add all the episodes of a TV series and layer things up.

As for Torrent downloading of TV shows, Torrents are just more convenient especially when you are a member of a good private TV sharing site and everything is available fast!
Firehed 4th September 2008, 14:18 Quote
I'm guilty on occasion. Hulu for instance makes getting the legitimate content easy enough (yay RSS!), but no easier than getting the same content from Bit-torrent (yay RSS!). It partly depends on the time of day - the torrents are usually out a couple of hours earlier, so I'll hit those if I'm still awake. I always find that streaming from Hulu is a little choppier than it should be, especially in high-quality mode (which is the same or better than the torrents). The commercials aren't too bad, and I'm fine with tolerating them since I don't have to download the whole thing before I can start like I would with torrents and it supports the content creators. As of late they sometimes offer to show a commercial-free version if you'll sit through a ~2-minute movie preview (which is a great length of time to grab a snack and hit the bathroom first) through truth be told I kind of like the 15-30sec interventions to check my email or whatever.

Of course I'm in the US so it's less of an issue for me than a majority of Bit's readers. Then again, I couldn't get BBC content, which is probably better (but I'm on a Mac so even if I was in the right region I'd still have DRM issues... epic fail - on both platforms just grabbing a screen recording is trivial). These companies for probably a couple more years will continue to make these mistakes; eventually, I expect they'll realize that platform/regional lock-in also functions as platform/regional lock-out. The fewer requirements you have, the wider your audience can be.
aggies11 4th September 2008, 14:39 Quote
If the networks were smart, they'd release their own torrents, with commercials (possibly with a region based advert insertion system at time of download to provide for local content). While some would definitely rip out the commercials, many wouldn't wait and just go for the convenience of high speed official torrents at the time of air. High precision fast-forwarding is tough in media files so I'd imagine most people wouldn't even bother and would end up just watching them anyway. (Or at least as much as they do on traditional air/cable broadcasts). Anyone who archives/shares the episodes would mean repeat viewings of those same adverts.

Give us SD for free and sell us the Disc later with the promise of HD and special features.
proxess 4th September 2008, 15:02 Quote
I think the biggest reason to getting the episode even tho its free is for "owning" the episode. To burn it onto a data dvd to lend to friends or even trade dvds with friends, like many non-japanese anime otaku's do.
wuyanxu 4th September 2008, 15:04 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by aggies11
If the networks were smart, they'd release their own torrents, with commercials (possibly with a region based advert insertion system at time of download to provide for local content). While some would definitely rip out the commercials, many wouldn't wait and just go for the convenience of high speed official torrents at the time of air. High precision fast-forwarding is tough in media files so I'd imagine most people wouldn't even bother and would end up just watching them anyway. (Or at least as much as they do on traditional air/cable broadcasts). Anyone who archives/shares the episodes would mean repeat viewings of those same adverts.

Give us SD for free and sell us the Disc later with the promise of HD and special features.
that's a very good option. they seed it a lot. so it'd offer better speed than other turrents, and they've still got their adverts in.



it's the fact that you can watch back-to-back without using the internet that's attractive.

people download stuff to be able to archive them, not watch once and waste all the bandwidth. i must say, i've download many shows: from s01 to s19 all Simpsons, archived them all to DVDs. about to finish watching Scrubs which i've also downloaded, i can watch whenever, how ever i want.

you can't convert the free web-videos into portable formats and watch on the train, you have to pay for it via iTunes. just download, say, IT Crowd, takes 30min to convert the video, drag onto iPhone and off i go.
Azmat 4th September 2008, 15:52 Quote
I download TV shows to watch them. Okay, i archive them because i have the capacity to do so, but other than that i just want to watch. Here in Belgium, waiting for the good shows to come over is pretty much the same as waiting for retirement.
Battlestar Galactica: top-series, aired in Belgium on Sunday evenings at 23:00h. "Seems like the audience is not quite the same", with no more BSG. I WONDER.
Dexter will start airing in September. Season one. Oh jolly, Season 3 will start in the USA. While all the time we are stuck watching reruns for the 5th time of some top series a couple years back. Or when they bring in a new season, they start by airing the previous seasons first.
Tiresome ? Very much. The time delay is horrible, the pickup of good series is too low. The DVDs are good and all, but it's a time delay and the DVDs don't really offer that much more quality than a good rip.
I rip the shows, and won't stop until they offer a valid alternative. I don't want to wait 4 years before i maybe possibly can talk to someone about how great this episode of How I Met Your Mother was. RAGE.
DriftCarl 4th September 2008, 19:27 Quote
I actually use Iplayer alot, the problem is especially the last season of top gear, it was out on my usual torrent site before BBC even put it online. the same goes for the last season of Dr who. Since i dont have a tv licence(150 quid saved a year) i can either watch it streaming or download it for later use. I watch the F1 on ITV's F1 website live streaming when its on, i dont mind the adverts, I just do what I normally do, go toilet, make a cuppa, grab a packet of crisps.

Now onto the proper "illegal" stuff. Prison break. I downloaded the first 2 episodes from my usual torrent site, nice and fast and in great HD rip quality. I dont live in america so I cant watch it on TV, and because of that same reason, hulu wont let me watch it online, neither would fox. So with the internet being so "close" now and having friend in IRC who live in america the only way to avoid the episode being spoilt for me while they talk about it is to actually download it and watch it.

I dont want to have to install some wierd octoshape custom p2p program and install it to be able to watch shows. as iPlayer proves, acceptable quality can be encoded into flash. so they should use it.

I will continue to download TV shows from torrent sites as long as we are forced to wait 6-12 months after america to watch it.
Anakha 4th September 2008, 19:31 Quote
Personally, I find it much better (And easier) to set Clutch/Transmission on my PVR to download a full HD version of a show overnight as I sleep, then watch it at my convenience the following day, rather than to connect a geo-location-hopping VPN, and streaming a poor SD copy from a website with delay and force inserted ads.
knyghtryda 4th September 2008, 19:42 Quote
I think the main reason TV torrents are so popular is that you can get 720p version of your favorite shows, and that is something no network is offering. No matter how convenient that in browser flash player is, unless they get to streaming 720p content the torrents will always win. Also, yeah, there's the pack rat mentality of of the torrents too, and I have to say I have fallen for the "I'll download it now and watch it later" thinking quite a bit.
p3n 4th September 2008, 20:54 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jaguar_Infinity
I like BBC's new Iplayer and the fact you can watch the stuff on their website without having to download their client. This was great for me while i was out of internet range with work etc as i could get back and watch the programs i missed, from the apprentice to the olympics. I think its great, the problem is i can't pick what i want to watch when i want to watch it and its also limited to the BBC's own coverage. Watching the aprentice a few days late is fine but i can't just pick a Doctor Who episode they havn't aired within a week. I also can't watch episodes they buy in from the US like Heroes, so if i want to watch a TV program i've already paid for by TV lisence and its not on Iplayer what options are there? This is where i think many people would download.

BBC have lead the way in the UK for internet viewing but it still has a way to go imo

The iPlayer holds a whole series now, not just 7 days...
MajestiX 4th September 2008, 21:04 Quote
they still block international viewers so it doesn't help much.

good news for australian though

http://www.pcauthority.com.au/BlogEntry/121784,bittorrent-users-are-being-watched.aspx

they only seem to be targetting distributors here in aus and not the users
samkiller42 4th September 2008, 21:08 Quote
I don't think it will be long before the TV Networks allow some of the 'more' popular programs to be distributed over P2P. Top Gear for instance is hugely popular, and yes, it will be repeated on DAve, but Dave add's sodding ads, and so you miss nealy 20mins of a 1 hour show.

Sam
CowBlazed 4th September 2008, 23:45 Quote
Ya they even block Canadian viewers from their "official" sites. I don't think they should block any countries but Canada gets the same TV episodes as the US and there is zero reason they should not allow people from here to watch.

There are ways around it apparently, proxy type stuff, but no ones going to jump through hoops to watch their crappy flash stream.
r4tch3t 5th September 2008, 00:12 Quote
I have bought the first three seasons and the mini series of BSG in NZ about 6 months ago, but they are only just airing season 3 now with season 4 almost finished in the US. Am I going to torrent it? Yes
Will I buy the dvd when it comes out? Yes
supaste 5th September 2008, 00:25 Quote
I never torrent shows. Mostly because it is such a huge kick to my Internet connection slowing me to a crawl. I can see whey people do it though. It's just so much easier. To download a torrent all you have to do is search a torrent site for show you want and download it.

To watch a show such as prison break legally you first have to think what network the stream will be on, you then have to trawl through the site to find their streams and finally to the show you want. On top of all that you also have to bear through adverts, slow downloads and poor quality.
Amon 5th September 2008, 00:30 Quote
The day that Canada gets a BBC-equivalent megacompany (specifically, their iPlayer) to deliver HD-only television programming on demand on my computer, I will stop downloading. Period.
rollo 5th September 2008, 02:19 Quote
tv shows have always been downloaded heavly in europe due to the 3-4month delay in there release here. Want to stop piracy of them

release them here at the same god dam time lol
koola 5th September 2008, 02:33 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by r4tch3t
I have bought the first three seasons and the mini series of BSG in NZ about 6 months ago, but they are only just airing season 3 now with season 4 almost finished in the US. Am I going to torrent it? Yes
Will I buy the dvd when it comes out? Yes

ditto
Timmy_the_tortoise 5th September 2008, 02:57 Quote
I just can't be arsed to sit down at a specific time once a week to watch something I want to watch. I hate having my viewing schedule being dictated to me.

I much prefer to have either a legitimate DVD or some bit torrent downloaded rips which I can watch whilst in bed, or whenever really.
PhenomRed 5th September 2008, 09:49 Quote
one of the main reasons i get Top Gear is cause if i watch it on tv they cut out heaps of it for ads. its approx. 1 hour when i download it, but its also 1 hour on tv, with about 20 minutes ads...
wuyanxu 5th September 2008, 10:51 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by PhenomRed
one of the main reasons i get Top Gear is cause if i watch it on tv they cut out heaps of it for ads. its approx. 1 hour when i download it, but its also 1 hour on tv, with about 20 minutes ads...
hum? Top Gear is on BBC2 runs for a full hour.

HD quality is also another reason to download rather than stream.
Xir 5th September 2008, 12:02 Quote
I rip what is hard to get, not what is popular...
frankly, the last television series i ripped was "Get Smart Season 1" from the sixties. :D

...a German broadcaster is planning to air "Allo Allo"...for the first time in Germany...talk about lag ;-)
We are usually not one, but two or three seasons behind. many series start, and then are dropped after 2 seasons. So yeah, people continue to watch them.

Oh! Don't tell me the end of "Battle Star Galactica" it's not been aired yet!
cpu121 5th September 2008, 20:39 Quote
I generally use torrents as a PVR as it's more reliable than the useless box we've got under the TV. It also allows me to watch on any computer wherever I like rather than being stuck to the one TV. I only really bother if I miss something (or know I'm going to miss it) or if I want to record it. Most of the stuff I download won't come out on DVD/VHS either. I find the quality tends to be better than freeview too.

I would use iPlayer more but I've never successfully got the subtitles working so it's useless. I missed 3 Top Gear episodes during the summer, which I couldn't watch on iPlayer due to lack of subtitles. Torrents aren't much better though as it still takes weeks/months if ever before subtitles are available.
Saivert 6th September 2008, 01:36 Quote
I live in Norway and I obviously torrent US shows, because they are either not airing here or the local broadcasters lag behind. Actually the channel TV3 which airs Prison Break here is not lagging behind that much, but I prefer High Definition quality. Norway has not got any High Defintion quality except some lame movie networks and sports. Yeah that's right SPORTS! Of course it's more important to show soccer in HD than some other show. Those channels are pay tv though.

As for the globalization that's not gonna happen because there is more money to be made selling shows to foreign networks/broadcasters. FOX, ABC, NBC can't distribute their shows to non-US viewers because that would upset the non-US broadcasters who see this as a threat and loss of profit. It's always gonna be about loss of profit. This is a business after all.

It's about time we suck it up and just continue our illegal thing and hope it wont ever be stopped. Legal tv shows in high quality and free for watching on the net is just not going to happen.

I would actually be more for paying for a service where I'm offered guaranteed bandwidth and access to all shows when I want in HD. We already have to pay a TV license here in Norway and most people pay for their cable/satellite subscription. I could easily afford a paid subscription to a TV internet service if I dropped the subscription on my regular TV.
Hamish 6th September 2008, 15:15 Quote
i do this all the time
the 2 options in the UK are bbc's iplayer and channel 4's 4od

4od is ****ing terrible, it really is
the quality is dire, the speeds are absurdly slow and it uses that stupid konitiki p2p **** that i dont really want on my computer

iplayer is far and away superior, i dont need to install a client, i can just stream off the site, the quality is better but still poor but at least theres no speed issues so you dont have to wait 3 days for a 200mb episode to download

the thing is i can go on usenet and download a 720p x264 of the same thing which has vastly superior quality and no restrictions
only reason i use iplayer/4od is when i just cant find stuff elsewhere
Saivert 8th September 2008, 21:32 Quote
Perhaps the reason BBC's offering is better is because they have more funding. Doesn't the british TV license fee go to BBC?

A private commercial TV-network will have to rely on ads to fund all of their internet services so you can do the math. You don't get that much money through ads these days. It has been pushed to it's limits.

I'm for paying for any service (like you guys are with iPlayer) if you really get what you pay for. And that way you don't get any ads as well.

Currently the ISPs are raking in the dough while everybody else is missing out on the action.

NEVAR FORGET: It's all about the money!
badders 8th September 2008, 21:47 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Saivert
Perhaps the reason BBC's offering is better is because they have more funding. Doesn't the british TV license fee go to BBC?

Yep, it's the one bill I don't mind paying.
As a slight tangent, I've got my HTPC playing the BBC iPlayer's new Higher quality streams.

It's pretty much spot-on broadcast quality, so IMO it's on-demand TV now, Hurrah!
sanju121 29th May 2009, 12:18 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by badders
Yep, it's the one bill I don't mind paying.
As a slight tangent, I've got my HTPC playing the BBC iPlayer's new Higher quality streams.

It's pretty much spot-on broadcast quality, so IMO it's on-demand TV now, Hurrah!

I’ve been using the following soft that deletes any file www.pathtoolong.com. It is not free, but it is good.
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