foxtelWith the business plan for the NBN announced earlier this week, there has been considerable discussion on video distribution online as being one of the benefactors of higher internet speeds. Foxtel Chief Executive Kim Williams, in an interview with The Australian, has stated:

“I think you’d have to be short-sighted not to be concerned about piracy,” said one free-to-air executive. “What we have had in our favour is the large file size of a TV show or movie which makes it harder to download, but clearly as technology gets better, you reduce the complexity of piracy.”

Australia is known to be one of the most prolific nations in illegal torrent TV downloading. Shows are treated poorly here with regular timeslot changes, shows being delayed by weeks/months after their initial US/UK airings, programs being dumped unexpectantly due to poor ratings, and the promotion of falsely promoted season finale’s to meet local network convenience. Spend a bit of time watching Australian TV and it quickly becomes apparent why so many opt for downloads of foreign content.

“Copyright theft and privacy are very serious crimes. Companies like Foxtel and other media companies that are dependent on the sanctity of intellectual property need to become much more effective advocates in working with government to find appropriate remedies.”

While I agree that media companies should be pursuing remedies that will help protect their interests, I do think that there is one element that gets overlooked. Audiences download because the experience of watching content that way is superior. There’s a better range of content, shows are available within hours of a US/UK broadcast, and the actual video quality is often better then that of  standard definition broadcasts in Australia.

There will always be those who download, but local media companies are in a position to provide an experience that piracy cannot. For the first time, the power of the viewing decision is in the hands of the viewer and not with media buyers. If a show is rating poorly, it needs to be given another reasonable timeslot or made available on online catch-up services.

torrentAnother area that Broadcasters need to work on is to ensure that their online portals offer a rich experience that can be viewed across multiple platforms and has the potential to replicate the TV experience. For example, Nine and Seven both offer some ‘okay’ catch-up TV platforms, however Nine’s is not available as an option on my PS3 (which is connected to my TV) in the same way that Channel Seven’s 7Plus and the ABC’s iView services are. And further to that, Seven have a cut-down version of 7Plus on their PS3 service with only a handful of shows available to be viewed that way.

Further to this, the US Hulu service trumps the pirate experience in its wide breadth of content. Obscure and old TV programs are often difficult to find on bittorrent. Yet, a service like Hulu offers a rich library of archive content. It’s a quality experience that torrents cannot replicate.

Prosecuting and limiting access to pirated material is simply not the answer. Most viewers are perfectly happy to play ball and engage in a legal alternative, they simply need to be provided with an experience that betters that of piracy. Local broadcasters have opportunities that exceed that offered by piracy. They can promote shows and advertise new and unknown content, local content is available, and there are no concerns of indulging in illegal activity.

The NBN offers a wealth of opportunity for local content distributors to better the experience provided by piracy. If they can’t do that, they will continue to fight a war that simply cannot be won.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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