Wednesday, March 19

CBC to release a TV series via BitTorrent

As previously predicted and then reiterated last week another public television network has started to dabble in DRM-free BitTorrent distribution. (yeah!)

According to Michael Geist the CBC is going to use bittorrent to distribute the program "Canada's Next Great Prime Minister" which airs this Sunday the 23rd.

This is not quite as adventureous as Norwegian Public Broadcasting's first try, but it's a good start.

Pardon me I spoke to soon. Upon reading up on the CBC's "Next Prime Minister" show, I see now it's an ambitious ongoing show, not just a single special as I had prematurely assumed. This release of an ongoing show is a very ambitious start for the CBC as it will give viewers a chance to establish regular viewing habits week after week. By the end of the series the CBC should have a really good idea if they can establish a regular audience for Internet based TV viewing.

While I haven't heard of anything from the Participatory Culture Foundation I certainly hope the two are working on a specialized distribution of the Miro open source TV platform for the CBC, as this would not only be tremendously beneficial to both parties, but I believe it may be essential to the success of the CBC's trial. (hint hint ;)

My guess is sometime in the next six months either the BBC and PBS will be the next to embrace BitTorrent distribution on limited programing. Once again I must point out that the model of distribution that the Participatory Culture Foundation has attempted to promote with Miro is exactly what I believe to be the winning model and that a partnership with the CBC would be a logical step on forging alliances with either the BBC or PBS.

As to my supposed success in predicting the popularization of BitTorrent by public TV providers it doesn't take a genius to spot this trend. It is one I and other video bloggers have been promoting since as far back as 2004 and it's one the Participatory Culture Foundation has been working on since at least 2006.

P2P technology is the only distribution technology that can effectively scale to meet the demands of timely full length and high definition TV programing on the Internet. It is an inevitable part of the future of media distribution on the Internet especially as Internet distributed video gets more timely and gains the attention of large global audiences.

Add to this the fact that public radio and television stations such as NPR, the CBC and BBC were some of the first to embrace audio and video podcasting and you have to deduce that sooner or later they would be among the first to start dabbling in BitTorrent TV distribution as well. In fact I have to point out that I'm still amazed that NPR has over 500 podcasts.

With this embrace of podcasting by public radio and TV it was only a question was timing, and with Norweigen Broadcasting taking the lead January of this year other public broadcasters were likely to soon follow.

If the trend continues then sometime possibly before the end of 2008 we may well see a commercial TV network dabble in BitTorrent distribution as well.


Speaking of commercial TV networks there is a very interesting counter point with the launch last week of is a very centralized, "page centric", albeit fairly sociable attempt at offering full TV and movie screenings to users. So far in my limited experience with it it seems to be holding up (scaling) well to the traffic. However I don't believe demand has been overwhelming do to Hulu's the very inconsistent offerings.

To be specific even though there are some great TV and Movie offerings that I think the early adopter / high tech crowd would be interested in (i.e. Battlestar Galactica, Serenity) these offerings often have very inconsistent episodic offerings. It would seem that instead of building viewing habits (an audience) and it's partners are "expiring" older episodes in what I can only guess is some misguided attempt to "tease" fans into purchasing further options. However this just leaves would be fans just as befuddled as the TV scheduling experience, perhaps more so.

In short, they have failed to fix the major problem. does not even solve the basic problem that Tivo has solved in letting your return to old episodes you may have missed or might want to see again.

If a user has missed an episode there is once again no alternative source for the fan to find these episodes but turning to the bittorrent grey/black markets. should be this catch all, not continue to perpetuate this problem of TV scheduling.

Hulu should be offering back episodes so a fan can catch up with an episode they may have missed, or would be fans can preview early episodes to determine if a show is something they're interested in. This does not undermine TV viewership or DVD sales of a show. In fact it supports them. is not, nor is it likely to be an *alternative* to TV.'s role in this future should be a *supporting role*. I know of no one who would rather watch their favorite TV show on a computer rather then live on TV or via DVD with no commercial interruptions.

As long as content creators struggle to understand this new medium fans will keep returning to p2p grey markets as that catch all solution.

It is all about building viewer habits, and as long as media companies fail to provide solutions on which fans can form good habits with good quality alternatives to cable or satellite fans of shows will build habits around p2p grey markets and it will be increasingly costly to lure them from those habits. This is particularly true of younger generations whom are growing up in this age of digital media prohibitions where all they have known is getting their media from the local speakeasy (p2p nets) because there has been know other digital option.

To continue with this metaphor... once the prohibition is removed, and work is done to rebuild trust and remove the taboo of digital media consumption.. when these goods come back to an open and sociable market the people will return to the digital sidewalk cafe's of the future and business will be brisk... but it must be natural, and open. No one is likely to return to this market with an attendant watching over them like a hawk, eavesdropping on their conversation and constantly reminding them of the time.

Respect, balance and trust must be restored to the digital marketplace and given how badly generations feel it has been betrayed it is not likely they will easily return. It's going to be costly.

We need to drag media and digital culture back out onto the open Internet where it can benefit everyone and be a part of a naturally sociable vibrant and bountiful marketplace. This digital prohibition has gone on to long. This last week was the ten year aniversary of the mp3 player. TEN YEARS and only this year have the major labels finally started selling mp3's.

If you failed to respond to your customers for ten years where would your business be?

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