Piracy is the Future of TV: commercial TV sucks relative to illicit services

“Piracy is the Future of Television” is Abigail De Kosnik’s Convergence Culture Consortium paper on the many ways in which piracy is preferable to buying legitimate online TV options. None of these advantages are related to price — it may be hard to compete with free, but it’s impossible to compete with free when you offer something worse than the free option. De Kosnik finishes the paper with a series of incredibly sensible recommendations for producing a commercial marketplace that’s as good or better than the illicit one. Alas, I fear that TV broadcasters would rather demand special online censorship powers and moan about piracy than fix their products:

A single interface, a single mode of searching, a single way of listing new TV content, and a single file format that plays on a single media player and works on every OS and can be ported to any mobile device: this should be the goal of all legal services. Uniformity in each of these areas across services will make all services of this kind – will make TV viewing on the Internet as a practice – more appealing to all potential users. Once watching TV online can match the simplicity of clicking through channels on a TV set, a larger percentage of the TV viewing population will be interested in using the Internet as their primary interface for television content. And TV pirates will not migrate to legal services unless they are at least as straightforward as pirate protocols. In fact, legal services can model their protocols directly on established pirate standards, as they are hardly secret.7

Offer a Premium Service for Personal Archivists
At the moment, piracy provides the best means for individuals to build personal libraries of television content, for all of the reasons given above. Legal services should consider how to serve this niche even better than pirate communities do. Users interested in creating archives would likely pay a premium if legal services could:

• Offer downloads (both standard definition and HD) of canonical versions of classic and current television programs, either with their original commercials (an important feature for some TV archivists) or commercial-free.

• Make files of new TV episodes available for download immediately after broadcast.

• Persistently “seed” those files (i.e., guarantee that the interested user can always acquire TV files, even older ones, since on pirate networks, older files sometimes are “unseeded” and very difficult to obtain). In fact, the network of collectors could be encouraged to seed files as they come into demand, under some kind of incentive program. (Pirate communities dedicated to “cult” or “art” films often offer rewards to members who are willing to seed requested torrents; for example, if a member seeds a currently unseeded torrent that six other members want, then the community may reward that seeding member with an increase in her maximum permitted download volume for a month).

• Provide collectors with seedbox accounts so that individual users do not have to consume their personal bandwidth in order to download as much content as they wish.

• Offer to host collectors’ libraries remotely, and to stream files from those libraries to any machine authorized via login and password.

• Give users the ability to organize their archives as they choose.

Piracy is the Future of Television (PDF) (via O’Reilly Radar)

(Image: Worship Me, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from bdunnette’s photostream)