The downloading of content has been a hot topic among anyone who has used the internet for the last 10 years. Initially, this started with people that were using the latest software craze called Napster which was a peer-to-peer file sharing network to ‘share music’. In this sense ‘share’ really meant that you borrowed it indefinitely from the machine of someone you did not know. It was effectively stealing the music, and soon it was software and other files, as you could get. It became famous when Metallica (the rock band) took the business Napster to court and effectively tried to kill off the whole idea of file sharing.
Over time, the concept of torrents (sometimes known as torrentz) also took hold which enabled a user to effectively do the same thing, however, with the torrent file they could hop through different networks and reduce traceability and thus remain less easy to detect. The filesharing concept literally exploded over the internet. The speed at which this took place was bolstered even further when internet bandwidth increased over the years whereby today, most standard Australian ISP connections will enable a person to download a song within the time it would take to hear the song. An album, about 10-20 minutes and a whole TV show within about 30 minutes. Many higher speed connections will do this even faster again and a whole TV series can be downloaded within 2-3 hours (all 24 episodes).
What is even more interesting is the speed at which a show will make it on to the networks. With upload speeds, and current technology being digital, a perfect copy of the episode will be ripped, processed into a compressed file, then uploaded and ready for download within the hour of it first viewing somewhere in the world.
In general, most shows will air first within the country they were developed for (ie US tv shows will air in the US first). The content providers (ie studios etc) often implement large deals with other providers to onsell the TV show and with planning and advertising, the local provider can make some money on the way through. These deals take time, and the local provider will obviously try to schedule the episodes at the point they can make the most return on their investments.
The tricky part is the timeframes can often be days, sometimes weeks and then even months. There are some shows that can take a year or more to come out on Australian TV and then there are some shows the local providers will not gamble on, make the investment and then ultimately bypass the show, perhaps until it can build a stronger overseas following. Then there are some local content providers (and I’m looking at you Foxtel) who will tie up a popular show such as Game of Thrones, Dexter, TrueBlood and The Walking Dead in their subscriptions such that a consumer needs to subscribe to their packages to see the favourite show. In Foxtel’s case, this can easily break $100 per month.
The problem here has been exacerbated with social media. We all have friends overseas today, even if they are only cyber ones. The sharing of information, especially while watching shows has become so prolific that many episodes will even include a hashtag on the screen so the audience can participate while watching the show. For the local Aussie, it can be pure hell to hear about the show from your American friends thinking it may be so long before you get to see it. On top of this delay, the content providers have treated the local audience with disdain for many years. The concept of starting a show late, moving timeslots, delaying a show’s start time by 5 to 10 minutes (especially frustrating when you learn the recording has cut the last 10 minutes of an episode) and in some cases seasons have ‘taken a break’ mid season has frankly pissed people off for years. Not to mention the squeezing in of more advertisements than anyone has a right to. The Aussie consumer has a means to fight back and people have been downloading shows.
The problem is that it has never been a fair playing field. Content providers have been able to ‘stick it’ to the Australian consumer for many years. Until just recently, a typical Adobe product was so expensive that it was actually cheaper to fly to the US and pick up a 2 disk copies of Adobe Creative Suite and bring them back than purchase the local versions. Consumers have been learning to challenge Apple on their iTunes store policy regarding their prices for US versus Australia which can be some 50-75% discounted meaning Aussies pay more.
New content providers such as Netflix, Hulu and HBO Go have emerged as a provider that allows the user to watch High Definition video (at least 720p) on demand via their web service for less than $10 per month. Now cast your eyes back up to the Foxtel charge of $100+ and try to explain why Foxtel is offering a good deal. Add to that, the on demand services can be watched when you are ready. Paused, picked back up the next day where you left off. They have integrated mass personalisation which includes filtering for the kids and recommended new shows based on the ones you are watching now. Aussies have already picked up how to use the new DNS services such as Unblock-US which can mask your IP address and basically trick Netflix in to thinking you are in the US and allowing you through. Some reports have concluded that there are more than 200,000 users already in Australia using Netflix, and they have not yet launched.
The content providers, specifically iiNet have fought for the consumer. While it might appear noble, they have their own cash to consider which is the real driver. The government is trying to propose that ISP’s do the filtering and block sites. Alternatively, the government would see that ISP’s track and issue warnings to a point they will cut someones access if they find that someone is downloading content illegally. Each of these options carry further cost burdens on the ISP. There are set up costs, maintenance costs and systems and software costs involved in setting up the monitoring and execution processes and so far no one has emerged to offer to cover that bill. Nevertheless, the government is still pushing this line and has recently submitted a paper to consider these options. You can read a copy of the Online Copyright Infringement paper here. The problem is not one of sympathy for the poor ISPs but really its about why are the government doing this to protect consumers. The government is ready to receive submissions up until 25 August 2014 whereby we wait to see what happens then.