Editorial: TV industry must confront Web piracy

Apr 8, 2002  •  Post A Comment

The Napsterization of television is happening bit by bit, megabyte by megabyte, and the time is now for producers, distributors, networks, engineers and lawmakers to plan the industry’s next move.
Even without widespread adoption of digital TV, watchable copies of television shows, stripped of commercials, already are being uploaded and swapped over the Internet. It’s possible for Web surfers to buy an entire season of “South Park” on an illegally distributed CD-ROM for as little as $5.
EM staffers were easily able to download full episodes of “South Park” and “The Simpsons”-commercial-free, of course-in file sizes ranging from 5 to 30 megabytes. Given the speeds of most home Internet connections and the tastes of the tech-savvy community, animated programming predominates, mainly because it takes up less file space than live action. For those with faster connections and more patience, “Andromeda,” “Stargate SG-1,” “Enterprise” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” are there for the downloading too. We managed to pull down a 115 MB copy of UPN’s first “Buffy” episode, featuring Peoria, Ill., affiliate WAOE-TV’s logo-again, no commercials, of course.
As broadband connections become widespread and the amount of storage on servers and home computers grows, things will only get worse. It’s up to the television industry to develop a game plan. The industry must work with legislators and law enforcement to curtail illegal distribution of programming, both by educating the public and by monitoring the Web for copyright violations.
And the industry must begin to face the fact that the people who are willing to download a 100 MB file are its shows’ biggest fans. They want to watch TV programming whenever and on any device they choose.
Television programmers, producers and sales executives must come to terms with the Web and realize that Ben Franklin’s “Join or Die” motto applies now more than ever. There is money to be made, and television must change or risk having its lunch eaten by a looming giant. Becoming part of that beast is the only way for TV to survive and thrive.