An article on TVSquad today points to a post on TorrentFreak listing the top 10 pirated TV episodes via. Bittorrent last week. The same article also contains the top 10 for 2007, which is more interesting since last week's list won't include the vast majority of US shows that've already finished their current seasons.
Topping the 2007 list is Heroes, which had 2.4 million downloads for its most popular episode last year. Since this figure is from one torrent site only, the real number is likely to be several times that.
It's hard not to imagine what the big TV studio execs think when they read stories like this. Even ignoring the strike, this year has been bad for the US TV industry, with viewing figures down across the board.
The other day I saw an interesting interview with writers from some of the top US shows, the general decline in viewers was one of the topics discussed. While the strike obviously had an impact, they didn't seem to think this was the main cause. One thing mentioned was the continued growth in popularity of PVRs like TiVo, as (I think) viewers watching TiVo-recorded shows don't count towards the published numbers. Another article pointed to the rise of the Internet as a source of entertainment - these days people spend a lot more time online either on social networking sites or playing online games like World of Warcraft.
Hopefully, rather than 'blaming the pirates', and seeing these millions of torrent downloaders as viewers lost, the execs will see these people as potential viewers gained, and look at how the TV industry can embrace changing technology.
In my opinion TV viewership will continue to decline until people can:
- Watch shows at times convenient to them
- Be able to watch shows immediately after airing (or within 24-48 hours) even if they live in another country
- Without DRM (if the files are downloaded, but generally people prefer to stream if the quality is good)
- Ad-free, or at least with the option to be ad free (e.g. by paying a small fee for the episode or subscription-based fee for the show).
In the meantime, services like Hulu may have some success, since they tick some of the boxes above; but such sites aren't going to change the number of pirates since they can only be used within the US.
There are a number of problems with broadcast TV that I think can (and will eventually) be solved by technology, but that's a topic for another post.