Exploding TV: Stranger things are happening

Warner Brothers announces that it will sell movies via BitTorrent. That’s good news on many levels: It’s another attempt to take out the middleman (sell your Blockbuster and cable stocks!) It’s a conforming use of P-to-P. And if BitTorrent can be adapted to handle this, I’ll bet it can be adapted to handle advertising and if that happens, networks will run, not walk, to distribute shows online.

This morning, I listened to the latest Diggnation as Kevin Rose and Alex Albrecht positively raved about the new ABC pilot of streaming some of its shows for free online (taking out its middlemen — sell the rest of your cable stock). They predicted that if the networks keep doing this, then in three years, more people will watch TV via the internet than via networks. Well, stranger things are happening.

Only thing is, once that happens, the networks themselves are middlemen. How long will it be before Warner Brothers makes shows to sell (or give away with ads) online direct to the audience, without networks or cable or video stores or dvd retailers or movie theaters?

: LATER: I should have said that Warner will distribute both TV and movies.

  • Jeff –

    I’ll bone up on the BitTorrent side of life later today (understand it may be built into the next version of Apple’s OS X codename Leopard). But, how, exactly does one go about charging for a file distributed via bittorrent? Happily showing my ignorance yet again!

    GB

  • Andy Freeman

    > But, how, exactly does one go about charging for a file distributed via bittorrent?

    BitTorrent is merely a delivery vehicle. It’s a way of shifting their distribution costs to their customers.

    They might be charging for access to the torrent file or the tracker.

    More likely, they have some scheme for collecting money for a key that you’ll need to play the file once you have it. The download probably also includes some program that takes the key and both makes the file playable and locks it to a single computer.

    If that works, they don’t care if you copy the file.

  • Angelos

    There must be some custom player you have to download, which allows the movie to be played after you’ve paid for it, but still doesn’t affect the Torrented MPG file itself. If that file gets locked or modified, then the fact that you’re sharing it doesn’t help anyone.

    Just think of software called iMovies. I pay $9.99 via this store/player app, it downloads the file using a torrent mechanism, instead of straight from one server, and I can play it on that computer.

    The movie file itself can’t be locked to any computer, because then sharing it would be useless to everyone else. There would just be some DRM code in there, checking to see if that movie has been paid for on that computer.

  • jack

    >>…sell your Blockbuster and cable stocks!
    Ha! Don’t sell anything, because there’s no reason to believe that the MPAA has gained even the slightest understanding of the marketplace. What they wish to do is sell a download which will work on only one **computer** (notice I didn’t say DVD player, TV, etc.?) and they wish to sell this for full price. Less utility+less convenience+same cost = no thanks. This smells like the internet version of DivX tried at Sucker City (Circuit City) a few years ago.

    In fact, based on the MPAA’s pathetic past efforts (and their so-effective practice of suing their customer base) I think I’m going to buy more BBI & TWX.

    I think this is a stall tactic. A rope-a-dope effort without the skill required for a knockout finish, and the best they can hope for is to not be beaten up too badly. Look, the MPAA doesn’t have any new ideas, but they are smart enough to know they must tie up the competition until they can think of something — anything — that will give them complete control of the entire “viewing experience.” They don’t trust their customers whatsoever. Never had. Never will. So they crack down even further with policies that make this product a real turd which nobody (NO. BODY.) will buy, then the studios can claim the high road and say “we offered downloads but nobody wants it. Well, that’s that.”

  • One problem with ABC online streaming of Desperate Housewifes and other programs: I’ve read that you will not be able to fast forward to skip the commercials which will be left intact, although within the program itself you will be able to pause etc. Also, forget going online for these program if you are outside the US. I rather watch my TV on a TV and save my eyesight. Taping my programs to zap commercials is the only way to enjoy TV. Old technology has its benefits.

  • Paw

    Jack is exactly right. You will not be able to burn the file to a DVD or transfer it to another computer. In addition, WB plans to charge full commercial DVD price for these downloads.

    Simple fact is, most people, when asked, prefer to watch TV or home videos…ON A TV SET!!!! SHOCKER! Although the day may come when TV viewing and computer viewing are done from the same single device nationwide, it aint there yet. Finally, the content providers’ paranoia about piracy will stagnate any effort to make content available in the kind of digital form that provides ultimate portability and sharing, which is what users want to begin with.

  • Dave

    The technology may not be all sorted out, but this is clearly the future of entertainment. Local television stations exist for two reasons…to make network and syndicated programming available to local audiences, and to provide local news and information.

    The web, along with cable TV and satellite distribution, will eliminate the first reason. Networks (and eventually studios) will be able to deliver their products directly to the consumer via the web or other delivery systems.

    TV and movie audiences will take control of their viewing choices the same way radio audiences have shifted to iPods and satellite radio. Consumers will watch what they want to watch, when and where they want to watch it; without the restraints of a primetime broadcast lineup.

    The only saving grace for the networks is the “water cooler” factor. More than any other medium, television can create a nationwiade (worldwide?) community of viewers, all watching the same thing at the same time. Whether it is the Super Bowl or Lost, people still like to talk about what was on TV last night.

    Consumers need to realize however, that entertainment is not free. Either advertisers or consumers will have to pay the fare. Recent studies show that most people prefer the free download with commercials. But if those commerials are not viewed, and therefor not successful, the ad dollars will go away.

  • Valjean

    ” … sell the rest of your cable stock”

    Perhaps this sounds really thrilling to the EFF crowd who think they can get a fat net connection from their drinking water, but down here on planet earth most folks get broadband from … wait for it … their CABLE company. Beyond the excellent DRM issues raised above, this rather appears to end the conversation. So TimeWarnerParamountDisneySonyViacometc streams valuable bits over IP rather than RF! They still own the pipe, Einstein!

    Dying to dump your dinosaur stock? Wait until the IPTV yucksters offer some decent *content* that the studios can’t or don’t control; then it’s nervous time. Until then the grainy amateur videos on YouTube and Veoh will have to suffice; but I don’t exactly see anyone ponying up $50/month for them …

  • Paul

    That’s not all TimeWarner is doing on the net, and the rest isn’t good. They’ve formed a relationship with known spyware/adware vendors 180Solutions and Zango:

    http://publications.mediapost.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=Articles.showArticleHomePage&art_aid=43217

    http://techsearch.cmp.com/blog/archives/2006/05/warner_bros_mak.html?loc=security_and_privacy

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