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P.O.V 3 - Get Down With The Downloads

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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.

A screen shot of the recent BBC iMP trial. This software, integrated with IE6, allowed you download a number of BBC TV and radio programmes.

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.

About this entry


>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.

What makes you think Microsoft would spare anyone?

By Philip J Reed, VSc
April 28, 2006 @ 11:14 pm

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Well, yeah, it goes without saying that Microsoft aren't much better, but I enjoy revelling in the whole PC vs. Mac thing because I'm a cunt of the highest order.

By Cappsy
April 29, 2006 @ 12:07 am

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Apparently I do, too, because I completely missed out on the best thing about this article...which is that if the BBC gets this imp thing in gear it'll effectively break down the barricade between British and American television. After all, American viewers will be able to tune in whenever they like...instead of having to shell out cash for DVD sets before they've ever even seen the show, or waiting for BBC America to decide it's one of three or four programs they'd like to carry in addition to Ground Force.

By Philip J Reed, VSc
April 29, 2006 @ 12:44 am

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I love the idea of iMP so much it's indecent. I was massively excited to try it out during it's Beta phase, but the problems did defalte me somewhat (me and Kirk might even get round to that review of it, sometime).

It's funny you mention the possibility of America having use of any future implementation, though, because I honestly can't work out whether they'd allow you to, or not. On one hand they restricted their recent trials of live streaming of their broadcast feeds to UK only, yet the substantial content on some of their sites (Doctor Who, mainly) remains international. Obviously there'll be crowing cunts saying "but I pay my license fee, why are the Americans getting all our shows for free? waaaaaaah" but I really like to hope that BBC have to stones to just chuck out their entire content to the world and to hell with the concequences.

Also, they *really* need to offer more of their shows in any future release.

By Cappsy
April 29, 2006 @ 1:00 am

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Well, I'm not saying Americans should be able to view it for free if you guys need to pay your license fee...but surely they'd be cutting themselves out of an international market for no good reason if they didn't allow Americans to watch...there's a fair few Angliophiles over here that'll be more than happy to fill up the BBC's pockets by downloading episodes...and I get the feeling it would actually take more work to restrict access to Brits only than it would to throw it open to the globe.

By Philip J Reed, VSc
April 29, 2006 @ 1:39 am

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Yeah, all the faffing about with blocking does seem a little pointless. But if they end up offering the service through, say, BBC America to allow for subscriptions to be taken, they'd have to do *something* to stop US viewers just getting it the free way through the unblocked UK system.

Just throw it open to everyone, I say.

By Cappsy
April 29, 2006 @ 1:42 am

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Well the BBC were considering having adverts on the website for users outside the UK, asking them if they found it acceptable or not.

By Daff
April 29, 2006 @ 12:26 pm

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You know, I'm not sure if I utterly hate that idea or love it. Weird.

I guess it's the thought of ANY BBC product carrying advertising that I dislike... it just seems inherantly wrong to me. Then again, you could argue that Johnny Foreigner needs to pay his way, although I'm inclined to disagree with that.

By Cappsy
April 29, 2006 @ 2:56 pm

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What people tend to forget is that stuff like the Radio Times has always had advertising. It's not a new thing for the BBC to be involved with.

Interestingly enough, the whole point of BBC Worldwide was to engage in commercial activity, and plough *all* profits back into the same pot the licence fee goes into, supposedly making the BBC cheaper for everyone. Sadly, BBC World used to suck all of that profit away. Not sure what the situation is now, though - with the BBC rationalising its news service somewhat (the 6 and 10 being broadcast on News 24, etc), things could well be different now. I'll try and find out.

By John Hoare
April 29, 2006 @ 3:07 pm

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Worth mentioning in relation to TV and the 'net intergrating - Wannabes launches in September. For those who haven't seen me prattle on about it elsewhere, it's an interactive online soap done by Illumina Digital for the BBC. It's centered around an eponymous club and the teenagers that run it and attend it. The script's a bit Hollyoaks, but not as rubbish at that. But the interactivity, the fourth-wall-breaking and the rewards/punishments you get from the characters should make it immensely watchable.

By Ian Symes
April 29, 2006 @ 10:57 pm

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'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.'

I thought so as well and IT Crowd's viewers were pretty poor but then Green Wing, despite all the advertising it got, only managed a similar total. Both were between 1 and 2 million, weren't they?

By Rad
April 30, 2006 @ 2:45 pm

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I think people were actually put off by the constant Green Wing advertising. I mean, did they expect all the people who didn't like the first series to suddenly think 'oh, Ch4 are hyping this up like fucking crazy so it must really be good and I must really be dumb'? I know a lot of people are fans, but I'm not one of them.

It's like with the new season of Lost adverts, they're aiming at people who got totally fucked off by, er I meaned disillusioned with season 1 because they didn't know what was going on and got bored. It's like 'confused by Lost?, nevermind that...season 2's starting in a couple of weeks so you better just fucking forget about that confusion and WATCH it because we need the damn viewers!!! Oh, and here's a heap of spoilerific material in the trailer to whet your appetite!'

I'm a big Lost fan, but I know that ABC will never allow episode downloads to people in the UK. Not that I care, torrents are quite useful in that respect. I know that if I hadn't have been able to download episodes I would have gotten pissed off with the show, and I wouldn't have been able to avoid spoilers for season 2.

By performingmonkey
May 01, 2006 @ 1:46 am

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I must say, I really like the way Channel 4 treat Lost - despite the spoilerish trailers (I mean, it some of those clips are from well past half way through the season!). But none of the trailers compare to these fantastic original trailers done for season 1's premiere on 4:

Lovely forshadowing and down right strangness. Brilliant stuff. There's something *very* interesting about John Locke and Walt seemingly conducting while everyone else dances...

By Cappsy
May 01, 2006 @ 1:27 pm

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That Lost advert is one of only two recent examples I can remember of seeing a TV show trailed in the cinema.

The other? Fucking Green Wing.

By Seb
May 02, 2006 @ 12:19 pm

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They must have had a real laugh filming that promos. After all, there's a heck of a lot of misery and intensity on the show. The Locke/Walt thing is interesting. It's like in season 1 when they were playing backgammon, the whole light/dark thing. And yes, I can't believe how far into season 2 some of the clips come from. Especially 'this is our island', even though it doesn't show who says it. And the plane falling from episode 7 is the first shot! I think they should have saved that. Obviously they never had the opportunity to do a season 2 promo like we got in the U.S. because they would have only had the first 3 episodes or so to take clips from.

By performingmonkey
May 02, 2006 @ 9:33 pm

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