I have a late night confession to make:
I’m a pirate. A bloody, stinkin’, thieving, baby-killing, livelihood-destroying, profit-sucking file-sharer.
There, I said it. If I don’t make it to Comic Con, look for me under the massive pile of DMCA notices.
I download mostly TV shows using a combination of BitTorrent and RSS feeds reliably and (seemingly) effortlessly, and I watch what I want, when I want. I regularly turn my friends onto good, new television shows by handing them a DVD and saying “Go. Watch. Enjoy. You’ll thank me later.” (boy, Battlestar Galactica’s been a good one for that).
Why do I go through all the trouble, and run the risk, if I could simply be content with a cable subscription and be done with it? I think it's fair to say that there are legal alternatives out there for those that want to enjoy TV programming ‘on-demand’, but these solutions are not entirely adequate--at least for me--for various reasons. Let's look at the usual suspects:
#1- Regular cable hook up: In this day and age, this is an untenable proposition to the educated media consumer. I cannot possibly justify paying upwards of $80 a month on a cable bill (yes, I’m including the premium channels in that figure, because I watch shows like Dexter, Rome, Deadwood, etc.), just for the 'privilege' of channel surfing. I watch particular shows based on genuine interest and/or recommendations- I don't need to have 500 channels of crap at my disposal, 24 hours a day, so that I can waste a whole afternoon of my weekend surfing through sub-par content, just because I have nothing better to do. I’m enough of a slacker as it is. There are other reasons why cable doesn't cut it: some people aren't home when a show airs; some people follow two shows that air at the same time, and inevitably have to choose to watch one over the other; some people hate commercials with a visceral passion (that would be me). And then some people are just subversive, cantankerous firebrands (um... me again).
#2- TiVo, and similar PVR (Personal Video Recorder) devices: I don't have $300 to spend on a TiVo box (I’d rather blow that kind of scratch on something that’s more than just a one-trick-pony, thankyouverymuch), and the device is dependent on your being subscribed to a cable provider anyway (see #1).
#3- The iTunes Store sells TV shows. But as much as I love Apple, iTunes has some very serious limitations: First and foremost, the quality of many videos bought off iTunes sucks. Big time. Due to bandwidth issues, TV shows from the iTunes Store are encoded at a resolution that is great for viewing on an iPod, look more or less adequate on your computer, or on a regular standard definition television set, but if you watch your shows on a 60-inch, high-definition (HD) display (like I do), this just won't cut it, at all. Granted, quality is bound to go up as high-bandwidth internet connections become more common, and iTunes has been doing a passable job at posting HD content of late. But full HD on iTunes is still a few years away, and it will be a gradual thing. I want my HD now, dammit.
Secondly, DRM (Digital Rights Management) sucks. If I buy a show for $1.99, I should be able to do what I want with that file, the same way I could with a store-bought DVD: play it on my computer connected to my HD set in the living room, play it on my other computer in my room, play it on my laptop in the back yard, even *gasp* give it to a friend who I want to get hooked on a show (thereby creating a new viewer)-- whatever. I bought it, fair and square. Hands off my stash.
Third, iTunes takes its sweet, sweet time in posting a new show after it airs sometimes, even though Apple says that they post shows on the day after the original air date (fans will remember the great furor after waiting for four days for iTunes to post the season 3 premiere of Battlestar Galactica). Not cool, Uncle Steve. Not cool at all.
Fourth, while the selection of shows on iTunes is good, not everything I want to watch is on there. And if a network like NBC gets angry and wants to take its toys and play elsewhere, there’s nothing we can do. So, in essence, if you buy a show on iTunes, you're paying $2 a pop for a video file that you can only play under certain conditions, at sub-standard quality, and is only made available whenever iTunes decides it wants to post it. Now, most of these things aren't necessarily Apple's fault, but they are the reality nonetheless. Moving on....
#4- Streaming sites like Hulu offer network television in an ad-supported, streaming format. Did I mention I hate ads? Yes, that’s what happens when you work in advertising for several years. You can’t watch regular television anymore, ‘cause you know exactly what goes into making the sausage. Regardless, I don’t want to watch a TV show on my laptop, or on my desktop computer, for that matter. I want to watch on my large honkin' television screen, sitting on my couch. Newish products like the Netflix Roku box are moving towards this (and I have to admit, I haven’t tried the Roku yet, so it could very well be killer) but I haven’t heard anything that grabs my attention yet. I’d love to hear otherwise, though.
In addition, I like to own my media. I want to be able to shuffle a file around onto whatever device I want; or help out a friend who missed a show because they have, you know, a life; or turn someone onto a show I like. I can’t do that with streaming media.
With teh pirates (yarr), I get exactly what I want: a timely (these guys are good), high quality, non-DRM’ed, commercial-free file that I can do with as I please. If I could give these guys (or the networks, for that matter) a modest sum for their service, I would. Unfortunately, they’re kinda hard to track down.
Now, before you go stringin’ me up, let me make something perfectly clear: I don’t mind paying for stuff. As a matter of fact, I will go out of my way to pay for stuff I like. Case in point: Joss Whedon’s Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. I saw it online, when it was available for streaming last week. Multiple times. I’ve also seen torrents floating around. But I bought it on iTunes as it was made available. I want Whedon and company to continue doing their thing, and I realize that making TV shows costs money, no matter how much of a labour of love it is. So I am more than happy to contribute my fair share. I do the same for books, even though I work at a publishing house, and have access to lots of free books on a regular basis. If I read a free ebook, or a book at the office, and I like it, chances are I’ll go buy it as a hardcover, or as a gift to someone else. Maybe I’ll buy the sequel, or the next book the author writes. If the author has a tip jar somewhere online, I’m there faster than you can say 'starving artist' (a myth, if I ever heard one, btw). I’m a creative professional too, and I like it when people pay me for my work. It keeps a roof over my head. But I wouldn’t feel right charging you a hundred dollars for, say, a poster, and then telling you that you can only frame it in a certain way, or hang it in a certain room of your house, or give it to someone else as a present.
So TV networks, if you’re listening: I’m here, and I’m taking your candy. I’d like to pay you for all your hard work, but you’ve gotta play nice and meet me halfway. I’m nobody’s chump, and the days when you controlled the tubes are long gone. Give me a-la-carte, high-quality, non DRM’ed downloads, priced reasonably, and I’ll come back to the fold. In the meantime: Yarr, matey.
And a bottle of rum.