P.O.V 3 - Get Down With The Downloads
Well, that was dreadfully crap of me. I managed two editions of P.O.V. in the first two weeks and then it all fell apart. Still, never mind. As a result of this I'm going to forgo the weekly nature of the column completely and just write it whenever something comes to mind. I'll get stuck into a proper weekly column, when I launch my currently untitled 'Good Website/Bad Website' column soon. Anyway, enough of this gay banter. What I really want to talk about today is the downloading (both illegal and legal) of television shows.
After all the bull shit was spouted about downloading killing the music industry it was finally proven that, in fact, when the technologies were applied in a legal way they proved to be a massive shot in the arm for the industry. Downloading is killing the music industry? My arse, it's the best thing to happen to it since the invention of CDs.
In stark contrast, the illegal downloading of TV shows has managed to stay pretty low profile. In a way, this is fair enough - it's harder to use the same moral reasoning as downloading music or film, merely because people can record stuff from TV anyway, so downloading can be seen as just regular time-shifting but through the 'net. Having said that, the odd news report has been made about the downloading of US shows by UK users, but in the main there's not been any fuss made by the major networks on either side of the pond - instead, BitTorrent sites have been targeted for their movie content, and not their TV content.
So, with this extra legal flexibility in mind, it seems various TV companies are now gearing up to combat illegal downloads in the correct way, by giving them viable competition and this has started to reap some excellent results.
Channel 4 - To accompany the broadcast of their new sit-com The IT Crowd Channel 4 in the UK made new episodes available online one week before their TV airing. To me, this looked like a foolishly bold move, and I fully expected it to have a negative effect on the ratings for the main show. However, it seems not, as a second series has now been commissioned. I have to say, it did seem to lessen the impact of the series for me, mainly because I was far to weak to wait for the regular broadcast, and so my first encounter with the series was always through this low quality stream. Still, the downloads were advert free, which is pretty damn nifty and certainly something the US networks are unlikely to do (see ABC, below).
On top of this, Channel 4 have uploaded the entire first series of Lost to their site, with the first two episodes presented free and a small charge applied to the others. I'm tempted to say that charging is cheek of the highest order, but it seems they're completely advertless, too, so I'll shut up. Probably best just to get the DVD box set, if you ask me though.
BBC iMP - In September 2005 the BBC launched a 5 month trial period for their new content delivery system, BBC iMP (or "imp" as the BBC insisted on calling it). The basic idea of this software was to provide a massively ramped up version of their online Listen Again service, but to extend this to their TV output as well as radio, allowing licence payers to download the shows for up to 7 days after its broadcast. A wonderful idea, I'm sure you'll agree, but as one of the Beta testers, I can say that in practice a number of problems were raised. The range of content was severely limited, the way the program integrated with Internet Explorer and Media Player was very flawed and downloads proved sluggish. On top of that, not even half of the BBC broadcast programmes were available on the iMP, most likely due to rights issues, but this was a big sticking point.
However, that's more than forgivable, considering the scale of this project shadows all others and that this is *exactly* the sort of thing we want the BBC to be doing. The quality of the video was very good indeed (but still not better than some of the pirated video from Torrent sites) and the convenience was excellent. Unfortunately, the trial has now ceased but things seem to be developing in other areas, which I'm sure will be covered more extensively on Noise to Signal when more details are made clear.
ABC - This April, ABC announced that a number of their key shows (including Lost and Desperate Housewives) will be made available for streaming on their site. Before UK fans get too excited, though, I can imagine that this wouldn't be available worldwide, as ABC will be entirely relying on advertising revenue from some specific adverts placed within the stream and this seems unlikely to be aimed at a worldwide audience, therefore I can't imagine us filthy Limeys being allowed access. I'm certainly happy to be proved wrong, though. I can't say for certain, but I can image this stream being of quite poor quality due to the massively high volume of traffic they're likely to receive.
iTunes - Plenty of stuff on here to download and play on your iPods in both the UK and the US. Only don't you come running crying to me when Apple start taking over the world and killing everyone who don't use their special file formats, portable players and terrible software. The evil bastards.
And all that is well and good and seem like very positive steps towards the embracing of online technology by some significant broadcasters. I consider these steps to be the one of the most exciting developments for the web, but there's no denying that it has a long, long way to go. Almost all of the schemes I've mentioned have very poor quality compared to illegal rips found on torrent sites, and this is a problem that the thriving music download market hasn't had to contend with. It's certainly going to be a sticking point until broadband speeds increase and bandwidth costs for the providers decrease.
Until then, though, things are progressing nicely and your average Internet user, not likely to be familiar with the illicit world of BitTorrents, are being served well. Long may it continue, say I.