Opinion: What happens to broadcaster exclusives in the age of online TV?

Columns & Opinion

stu-mugshot2.jpgStuart Dredge writes…

Channel 4 has The Simpsons, Sky has 24, Channel Five has all 67 CSI spin-offs, and the BBC has Heroes. Imported comedy and drama has been a mainstay of the UK telly schedules for years now, right down to daytime soaps like Neighbours and Home & Away.

Us Brits are a cosmopolitan bunch in terms of our TV tastes, equally at home in Friends’ Central Perk as we are in the Queen Vic in Eastenders. So I can’t help wondering what our appetite for foreign drama will mean as online TV services like Joost, VeohTV and Babelgum get more popular, not to mention the planned services from NBC/News Corp, and CBS.

Or, to be specific. Why wait until a UK broadcaster airs the new series of Lost, 24 or Heroes , if it’s streaming online RIGHT NOW from a US website, funded by advertising? For a couch potato, the appeal is obvious. For the broadcasters and production companies, it represents a thorny issue that’ll need to be solved.

And it will be solved somehow, not least because broadcasters make a packet from selling the foreign rights to their shows on an exclusive basis. To turn round and bluntly say ‘Sure, you can pay us tens of millions to show this in the UK, as long as you don’t mind us streaming it on Bebo before you get it’ would be…an interesting decision.

The logical answer is territorial lockouts. If you’re putting your hot new US show on Joost, only make it available to US users, at least until it airs elsewhere. A similar policy might apply to the very separate area of sports rights, which are often country-specific.

But I think this would be a shame, as there’s clearly an opportunity for broadcasters to do something more innovative. Think about it: there’s a huge hunger among a sizeable base of telly addicts for brand new drama whenever it airs. It’s shown by all those Brits BitTorrenting episodes of Lost and 24 as soon as they air in the US, for example.

Surely the broadcasters can figure out a way to monetise this without enraging their rights partners? I’d happily pay a reasonable fee to download episodes of my favourite shows if it freed me from the delay of waiting for a UK airing (as well as the temptation to read online spoilers).

I have written before about how I’d like to see original stuff on Joost rather than just Big Media shows, by the way, but if we’re going to have the latter, at least it could be properly fresh episodes.

People don’t want to be at the whim of commercial licensing deals and TV scheduling any more, and right now the only way out is to illegally download episodes. If the TV industry is smart, they’ll take a more nuanced approach than simply trying to stamp down on P2P.

Telly 2.0 could hold the answer. And if nothing else, it could mean I never have to gnaw my fists in frustration while trying not to see what Jack Bauer’s up to before I’m supposed to.

Stuart Dredge is editor-in-chief of Tech Digest, and can’t help wondering if thousands of Americans are BitTorrenting Life On Mars and Shameless in return.

Stuart Dredge
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One thought on “Opinion: What happens to broadcaster exclusives in the age of online TV?

  • The networks cannot compete against Bittorent where thier shows are available in HD and with the commercial breaks removed so they had better get their content on demand on platforms like Joost that have minimal advertising and intanst streaming if they want to monetise viewers who are downloading shows on a worldwide basis .

    Gone are the days of Regional Windowing and shows need to be distributed on a Worldwide basis as soon as they premier on TV somewhere.

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