Networks declare war on pirates
Networks are getting wise to illegal downloading of shows, writes Geoff Shearer
FANS of Heroes have become the villains on the widening and stormy seas of TV piracy on the internet. The cult sci-fi series heads the list of the top 10 illegally downloaded TV shows for last year, followed by Lost.
The global issue of piracy has placed Australian networks on a war footing.
The fast-tracking of shows from their country of origin, catch-up programming and making episodes available for download postbroadcast are strategies networks here are using to dissuade fans from pirating episodes via file-sharing methods such as BitTorrent.
But despite similar moves by US networks, TorrentFreak.com reports a milestone was reached last year when the download figures for two shows in the top 10 — Heroes and Dexter — exceeded their actual average viewership on US TV.
Heroes was downloaded about 6.58 million times last year, whereas the show had an estimated US audience of only 5.9 million.
‘‘The rise of unauthorised downloading of TV shows is a signal that customers want something that is not available through other channels,’’ TorrentFreak reports.
‘‘Availability seems to be the key reason people turn to BitTorrent — and this is also reflected in the fact that most downloads are to countries where the show has yet to air on TV.’’
Channel 7, which shows Heroes in Australia, has been proactive against piracy.
Seven’s director of programming and production, Tim Worner, says the network’s shows are now ‘‘more available than they have ever been’’.
‘‘Viewers are getting to know that if they miss the show on Seven, it’s going to be on Yahoo!7 for the next seven days,’’ he says.
‘‘In some cases we won’t leave shows sitting on the shelf for any length of time. We’ll fast-track them to air within 24 hours of their first telecast in the US.
‘‘We work so closely with the studios on this issue that the makers of Flash Forward, ABC Studios, which has the most progressive thinkers in this area, allowed us to telecast an episode of Flash Forward before it had been broadcast in the States.’’
A Nine Network spokeswoman agreed that fast turn-around times were effective.
‘‘Certain programs, particularly those with ‘cult’ followings, are more likely to be downloaded, so where possible their air dates have priority,’’ she says.
Network Ten says air dates matter.
‘‘Ten’s youthful audience is a highly savvy one, and they have a strong level of engagement with their favourite shows,’’ Ten’s head of corporate communications, Jeannette McLoughlin, says.
‘‘This means they increasingly look for immediacy and convenience — and we are in a great position to deliver on both counts.
‘‘Our established arrangements with our US studio partners mean we often broadcast key shows ‘day and date’ with the US.
‘‘We also have a significant offering in catch-up TV, with the rights to stream more than 40 programs online.’’
Some analysts fear that networks providing online downloads will eventually kill the advertising-supported business model of traditional free-to-air broadcasting.
A UK media research company, however, released a report last month that dampened such speculation.
The Enders Analysis report forecast the share of video on demand would grow to only five to 10 per cent of all viewing by 2020.
Fans turn to piracy when networks are too slow to screen cult shows such as Heroes.