In the past if you missed an episode of your favorite show you had very limited choices. If you had Tivo or a similar service you could just pray and hope it was smart enough to record it. You could also hope it was available on some sort of on-demand service provided by your cable. Failing that, you could either wait for a re-run, or go online and download the episode from your favorite P2P network. Added bonus was that the friendly folks who were uploading the shows usually grabbed them from HD feed, and were kind enough to remove commercial breaks. I did this myself several times for this or that show. There is just no way to prevent it.
At the time I used to wonder why the networks didn’t simply put the episodes online, complete with commercial interruptions. Since they already circulate in the wild, why not turn around and profit from it. This rejection of adopting a viable stream of revenue out of fear that it will make it easier for pirates to “steal it” seemed silly to me. I mean, some groups out there are able to start seeding an episode 15-20 minutes after it was aired – all they need to do is to grab the file from their VDR, and cut out the commercials. Not releasing a digital copy of your show didn’t necessarily impede their work.
Conversely, if you stream the episodes from the official website, surround them with one or two advertising banners and include commercial spots embedded in your stream, you are capitalizing on several of the 8 generatives Kevin Kelly talked about in his essay Better than Free. Since this is an official release the fans of the show know immediately where to find it (they can bookmark the page, instead of searching P2P networks), and furthermore they know the content is authentic and trustworthy which is not always the case with the less than legal sources.
Well, lo and behold – this idea is starting to take ground. This Friday I missed the new Battlestar Galactica episode and to my surprise I noticed that all 3 episodes of the new season are available via SciFi Channels Rewind service. Yes, the quality is low, and the commercial breaks are a tad annoying but you know what – I don’t really care. I just want to catch up with so that I can participate in online discussions and the obligatory Monday lunch hour BSG discussion at work. And for that the grainy, slightly above Youtube quality compressed FLV is just fine. Hell, it’s in fact more convenient since all I need to do is to click a button and watch. I don’t need to wait for the download to finish, and I don’t need to worry that part 5 of 6 will be taken down before I am able to watch it as it is often the case on the TV-Links like link services.
I wanted to commend Scifi and all the other networks which choose to follow this route. I’m glad people are slowly begging to see the light. When you put episodes online like this we all win! You get an extra stream of revenue and I get to watch my show whenever I want. This is exactly how you should combat piracy – compete with them on terms they cannot match. The streaming show on your website is official, safe, permanent and readily available when needed – it is better than free.
Is this an indicative of change? I don’t think it’s just Scifi that is doing this. I think ABC was doing something very similar for Lost episodes, although I’m not sure if they just offer the last episode, or all of them. So there are networks out there that are beginning to understand how to make a buck in the digital world, and that is filling me with hope. Perhaps future is not as bleak as we all suspected. :)
[tags]scifi, scifi channel, battlestar gallactica, better than free[/tags]