A View from Henry Jenkins

Downloading Television, Legal or Otherwise

Salon’s tech reporter Farhad Marjoo recently posted a thoughtful discussion of the current state of television downloads. The center piece of the article is a discussion of a recent FCC decision which cleared the way for TiVo, the digital recorder…

  • August 17, 2004

Salon’s tech reporter Farhad Marjoo recently posted a thoughtful discussion of the current state of television downloads. The center piece of the article is a discussion of a recent FCC decision which cleared the way for TiVo, the digital recorder folks, to offer a new service-TiVoToGo-which allows one to transfer digitally recorded content from your TiVo machine across the internet to your PC or to another TiVo. The service comes with plenty of hardware to make it difficult for the content to be shared with family or friends, let alone the general public, but it does represent a real convenience for folks like me who travel and want to catch up with their favorite shows. What I also want is a simple way to tell my TiVo from the road to tape shows I discover, say, reading a newspaper or magazine on the flight.



From here, the story goes on to look at a variety of strategies being adopted to share television content on the Web-which is as legal or illegal as downloading any other copyrighted content.



Reading the article got me off on one of my pet pipe dreams-reruns on demand. We can get there legally or illegally. The article describes the illegal route-connect enough television fans up using BitTorrent and RSS-and let them rip, burn, and trade your content. Or create a simple system where I can pay per view to watch episodes of television series while they are still on the air and still relevant in the culture. Right now, television producers are making a lot of money bundling together episodes from past seasons onto DVD and selling them. It used to be taken for granted that no one would pay for content that had been offered for free. Wrong. It was also assumed that selling content would interfere with ratings for reruns or interest in syndication packages. The success of Sex and the City in syndication after years of access on DVD would seem to disprove this. The next step is to sell me the content immediately after it airs, so if word of mouth builds on a new series, fans can go back and catch up on the episodes they missed, rather than waiting for rerun season and probably forgetting about it. Personally, I’d also love to be able to cherry-pick series off Showtime and HBO without having to subscribe to the whole network. I might in the end give them more money rather than less but I’d be paying for the content I wanted to see. Give it to me in a cheap, easy, timely, and legal fashion and there’s no reason for illegal downloads.

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