This morning, I had the opportunity to read a well-written article in the Wall Street Journal (possible paywall link) about challenges that TV networks and content providers have in fighting pirates.
The article focuses, as they say, "on another network", but the piracy challenges are quite real for any online content producer, TV network, blog writer, or software developer.
I've talked before how, back in the days when I wrote and sold software, I'd often get support complaints from people who either downloaded pirated copies of the software I'd written, or worse, paid someone for copies who had never bought them from me.
I've seen copies of articles I've written for sale on Amazon. And I wrote last summer about the lowlifes who completely cloned copies of my iPhone apps (right down to the marketing copy) and are still selling them on the Apple Store, right under Apple's apparently uncaring nose.
The WSJ article goes into detail about how challenging the fight is, because with video content, pirates steal episodes immediately and post them. It details an NBC anti-piracy unit that tries to fight all these illegal posts.
I have a couple of problems with the WSJ article. The first is that it seemed to support the inevitability of damaging SOPA-like legislation, and I just don't think Americans need to have their privacy rights damaged completely just to protect episodes of The Biggest Loser.
If yet more legislation won't solve the piracy problem, is there anything that can reduce it? Yes, as it turns out, I believe there is.
A few weeks ago, our TiVo glitched and didn't record a complete episode of one of my wife's favorite shows. She was very disappointed because it's one of those shows that builds on the story of the previous week.
Initially, I thought the problem would be easy to solve by simply buying the episode online. I looked on Netflix. I looked on Hulu. I looked on Amazon. I looked on iTunes. I looked at the network's own website. As it turns out, the previous season was available on iTunes, but current episodes were not.
Now, I know better than to go download a torrent of the episode. You shouldn't download torrents either. First, you're probably violating a law; and second, you're probably subjecting your computer to all sorts of nasty payloads.
The problem was, my wife didn't get to watch her show. I would have easily spent $2, $3, heck, even the price of a movie admission just to make sure she wasn't disappointed. But the network in question simply didn't offer a pay-for digital version of the show.
This brings me back to my original premise. Many TV providers don't provide online versions of their shows at the same time that they broadcast it. I think this is a huge mistake. I know there is the risk of people cutting off their cable TV services, but if that's going to happen, it's going to happen.
A few simultaneous releases won't change anything. They could even sell episodes at a higher price while the season is running, and then reduce the price once the season is over. We would have quite enthusiastically paid a higher price (all while commenting on the wonders of the internet), just so that my wife could keep up with her show.
If the TV producers make their programs available outside of the "be on the couch at this time of the night" mentality, legitimate viewers will continue to support their programs, and possibly those not quite as law abiding as I am would buy the shows instead of pirating them.
So what was the result of my wife's disappointment? She stopped watching the entire series. She's now working her way through a different series on Netflix instead. The network that didn't make that one show available lost her viewership for all that show's remaining episodes. So did that network's advertisers. My wife actually likes what she calls "the tiny programs", and enjoys watching most commercials.
And no, it's not lost on me that ZDNet is owned by a major media company. And yes, I did run this article past the editors before posting.