Despite supreme court judge Betty King banning Channel Nine Underbelly from Victorian television, almost seven in ten Victorians have seen the gangland drama, according to an online poll conducted yesterday by Crikey.

Of the 263 Victorians who responded, 69.8% said they had seen the series. When asked “In what format did you see it?”, 97.4% said they had watched a downloaded, burned or bootlegged copy, with the remaining 2.6% saying they had seen it on television.

Of those who hadn’t seen Underbelly, 50.8% weren’t interested, 24.6% couldn’t find a copy, 16.4% didn’t know how to download it, and 8.2% didn’t want to be held in contempt of court.

Of course, Crikey’s rather unscientific poll is far from authoritative. Maybe Crikey readers are tech-savvy crime junkies who were always going to disobey the Victorian supreme court, especially with little to no chance of being nabbed for doing so. 

Maybe they were fibbing. In either case the results may not be representative of Victoria as a whole. But it begs the question, what if the results are accurate, in a “ballpark” sense? What if one in seven, or even one in five Victorians have already seen Underbelly?

Apart from the huge blow to Channel Nine’s advertising revenue should Underbelly ever screen in Victoria, it closes the book on the question of who would win a fight between the Victorian supreme court and the internet — Crikey’s numbers suggest that the internet won by knockout early in round two.

Perhaps more importantly, it raises questions about how a court system might protect potential jurors from prejudice should a similar situation arise in the future? Harsher penalties for disobeying it? Or a ban on a series/movie/whatever from screening everywhere?

If pirated copies haven’t completely undermined Betty King’s original ruling, the box set of the series might just finish the job when it goes on sale this Thursday in all states except Victoria. The Daily Telegraph reports that “all 60,000 boxed sets produced (have been pre-sold) with an extra 20,000 now in production to meet demand.”

Strict measures have been taken to keep the discs from Victorian loungerooms (and DVD burners). You won’t be able to buy it online from the usual online DVD retailers. eBay has agreed to restrict supply from Victoria but rival online auctioneer has copies for sale already. Further, stores will be supplied directly rather than through the usual distribution centres, each copy will carry a reminder that the series is banned in Victoria, and retailers near Victorian border towns will be monitored closely.

But given the reproductive capacity of a single boxed set located outside Victoria, let alone one smuggled home in your hand luggage, such measures seem token at best.

Strict controls on the sale of the boxed set might satisfy a judge that Roadshow Distribution has taken reasonable steps to obey Betty King’s embargo, but by the time the show screens in Victoria and the boxed set becomes available, every Victorian who wants to watch it might already have done so.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey