What Doctor Who can teach Kim Williams

The ABC's decision to release new episodes of Doctor Who online first can teach a lot to content holders who delay releasing content in Australia.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor on

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) revealed today that it plans to release the new episodes of the latest season of Doctor Who on iView at 5.10am AEST on Sundays, starting this weekend. This is just hours after it airs in the UK, and a full week before it will be broadcast on Australian TV.


(Credit: BBC)

The BBC's iconic long-running science-fiction show Doctor Who has always been one of the shows that fans just can't wait for Australian broadcasters to air; even a week is too long, as ABC managing director Mark Scott has previously pointed out.

But Australians won't have to wait anymore. The ABC announced on its blog today that starting with the season premiere of "Asylum of the Daleks" on 2 September, every episode of this season of Doctor Who will be up on ABC's TV-streaming service iView just hours after it airs in the UK, and likely hours before most Australians are awake to watch it.

What is surprising is that Australians are so used to waiting for TV shows that when someone gets it right, we're all amazed. Although some have complained that iView only broadcasts in standard definition and not high definition (you can't please everyone, and I'm sure they'll rectify that eventually), I predict that we'll still see a bit of a decline in the number of Australians choosing to obtain the new episodes of the show through BitTorrent or other copyright-infringing methods, because it's available right when people want it. I sincerely doubt that the ratings for the episodes will take much of a hit when they are broadcast on TV, too.

The ABC must have a TARDIS of some sort, because it has seen the future and knows that this is where content delivery is going to end up.

It comes at an interesting time in the copyright debate in Australia. Last week, News Limited CEO Kim Williams mocked those who claim that they download TV shows or films because they are not available quickly enough in Australia, or are not at an affordable price to buy. He compared this mentality to stealing from a jewellery shop because it is shut and the items are too expensive.

Williams rejected any assertion that there is a lack of digital content available today. It's really not surprising that the former CEO of Foxtel would be sticking up for traditional broadcast models, and I would say that although there might be a lot of digital content about, it's not usually what people want.

What Williams is seeking to protect is not the income for the artists, the TV show makers or even the film studios, but rather the archaic method of delivery. It's hard to see Foxtel's business case, which is built on a foundation of packaged channels consisting of content that you're not all that interested in, surviving in a digital environment where people are getting what they want, when they want it.

And while content owners say that they can't compete with free, as iiNet's chief regulatory officer Steve Dalby noted, the bottled water industry is profitably selling stuff that you can get for free.

In this case, because the ABC is the public broadcaster, we are getting that content for free anyway, but I hope that this experiment is watched closely by Foxtel and other commercial broadcasters, which can, in turn, find some way for us to watch their shows at the same time they are released in their country of origin, either with a subscription-based model or supported by ads. Otherwise, these businesses might find themselves more extinct than the Time Lords.

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