A recent post in a forum
that I participate in led me to ponder a new distribution method for television shows. The following is in response to a question about downloading shows from the UK:
"how about TV shows that don't even air in your country? i know some friends that watch shows from the UK that the don't even air in North America, let alone Canada."
If we're talking about strict legality, unless you can legally receive the program, you can't "legally" download it (if we're going with the assumption that downloading TV shows are allowed through timeshifting). This is how I see it: say I don't get cable, so I'm limited to global, ctv, and cbc. Law and Order comes on tonight, but I miss it. Now, no matter how many people are actually watching the show, advertisers on CTV will make a certain amount of money while Law & Order is being played. Of course, these advertisers expect that those watching the show will also watch the commercials, but I usually change the channel or do something else.
Anyway, whether I decide to watch it on TV or download it the next day because I missed it, the advertisers are making their money, the producers of the show & actors are obviously making their money, and CTV is making a cut as well. So no matter how I actually watch it, everybody wins.
The question is, what happens when a significant portion of people move from watching a show on TV to downloadng it off of the net? If a large chunk of people are no longer watching those advertisements, then advertising drops off, which starts a chain reaction that I don't think I need to get into. What are the solutions? For starters, I think a net-based distribution model should be implemented, preferably using bittorrent. Here's how I can see it working:
1) Local cable company decides to offer a downloads package so that customers can download their programs at their leisure. Dunno how this would work monetarily; perhaps payment by episode, perhaps payment by season for any given show (i.e. sign up for Law & Order season 14), perhaps flat rate for all you can download. Prices would have to be *low* - for example, latest season of Law & Order on DVD is $60, which is about $2.50 per episode. I wouldn't pay this much just to watch the show if I could wait a few months and get it permanently, but I might pay $1 per show if it meant that I wouldn't have to pay for cable. If I regularly watched 7 shows a week (first tier, not including reruns of simpsons and whatnot), that would work out to $30 per month. That's not too bad, I think.
2) Distribution costs are going to be critical, so perhaps you could provide two options. First, direct download from a main server; perhaps there would be a main Law & Order server that serves all of North America, perhaps there could be distributed servers on West & East coast, or whatnot. Maybe 1 Canadian server and several US servers; I really have no clue how it would work best. Full price for direct download. Second option would be a torrent download. Now, the key for torrents is to both download *and* upload, so perhaps companies could provide a discount (10%? 15%?) for customers who have an upload/download ratio of 2:1 (upload 2 copies for 1 copy downloaded). Trackers could provide this information easily. This way, you could let your users help with the bandwidth a bit (we're not talking 10:1 here, as this bandwidth comes out of *our* pockets) which would help keep costs down.
3) Absolutely no way you could cut out advertising. What would be a problem would be making advertising regionally applicable. But, since we're talking about a digital format here, which makes it extremely easy to fast-forward ads (or even strip them altogether), maybe it would make sense to have banner ads on top/bottom of the show at all times. Yes, it would be annoying, but without advertising I don't see how this model would work.
4) The dreaded DRM. I don't see how DRM can be avoided. Yes, it would be cracked, but at least advertisers would be content knowing that their content can't easily be stripped out of the data stream. I used to subscribe to the electronic edition of the New York Times which used a proprietary viewer that was almost identical to PDF, which didn't bother me at all as I could copy the data files on my hard drive as much as I wanted to (re-downloading cost me more money, though).
Right now, even with a half-decent DSL connexion, it takes about a half hour to download an hour-length TV show (that's at 200kb/s, assuming 300mb file). It's not exactly convenient, and you'd have to plan ahead if you wanted to watch your show, *and* unless you had an HTPC setup you'd have to watch it on your computer, but right now my comp setup is as good, if not better, than my home stereo setup, so I don't see this as a problem for *everybody*.
To get back to your point, xb0xb0y: imagine if we had this hypothetical model in place. It would be ridiclously easy to buy a subscription to a British show and thereby avoid the problem of international copyright infringement because said show doesn't play locally. Might be a tad expensive, given the exchange rate from the UK to Canada, but it would be a legal option, anyway.
If there are any cable executives out there reading this, feel free to implement this. Please?