The premiere of the new Battlestar Galactica series on October 18th, 2004, was supposed to be a straightforward affair. British satellite broadcaster SkyOne had collaborated with the SciFi Channel in the US to share production costs. SkyOne premiered the series in their markets in October 2004, but SciFi Channel programmers decided that January 2005 would be a better time to air the series in their market.
It didn’t quite go as they planned. The market for a TV series like Battlestar Galactica is decidedly geeky, and within hours of the SkyOne broadcast, the premiere episode was available to the world via the Internet. Television episodes have been distributed via the Internet before, to be sure, but the impact of this alternate distribution channel may not have been felt so keenly by traditional broadcasters. I can only imagine their horror when contemplating a world in which the time and place television shows are watched are controlled by the viewer. Doesn’t that kinda, I don’t know, destroy their existing advertising revenue model?
In his article “Piracy is Good?” (part I and part II) Mark Pesce examines the impact distribution mechanisms like BitTorrent may have on traditional television distribution models, and proposes alternatives that may work in a world where television content becomes more easily accesible via the Internet. One interesting thought proposed by Mr. Pesce is that not everyone in the existing television value chain would see a new distribution model as a bad thing:
Today the broadcaster aggregates audiences, aggregates advertisers, puts commercials into the program breaks, and makes a lot of money doing this. But — and here is the central point I’m making today — wouldn’t it be economically more efficient for the advertiser to work directly with the program’s producer to distribute television programming directly to the audience, using hyperdistribution?
This all hit home for me when the kids and I became hooked on the new Doctor Who series the BBC put together. The CBC began broadcasting episodes shortly after the BBC began broadcasting, but they were always about a week behind the BBC. We would watch some on CBC, but would sometimes miss the broadcast at 8pm on Tuesdays. I thought about setting up my VCR to capture Doctor Who episodes, but had forgotten that it can no longer be programmed to record shows. Then it hit me: perhaps the Internet could be my VCR?
So I downloaded an episode. Then two. We quickly became impatient with the time skew between the BBC broadcast and CBC broadcast; we wanted to see new episodes as soon as they were available. The episodes on the Internet were made all the more tempting because they were captured in HD quality, with all traces of commercials smoothly (almost lovingly) edited out. There is something extremely compelling about being able to sit down with the kids and watch a show when it fits your schedule.
Season 2 of the new Doctor Who series starts broadcasting on the BBC early next year. I can’t bear to think about watching it the old fashioned way.