When are broadcasters going to let TV rights join the 21st century?

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One of my favourite TV shows is The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Every night the American late-night talk show provides a devastating and hilarious take on the day’s news – with a heavy slant towards a serious news agenda (think Syria, not Cyrus). It’s pretty much perfect.

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What’s also great is that the Daily Show has an expansive website – offering every episode broken up into clips, complete with embed code, so you can tweet or blog the latest devastating takedown of Fox News, or whatever. At least – that would be possible… if I were anywhere but Britain.

The Daily Show also demonstrates the completely bewildering TV righhts regime that still plagues the digital world – and is stuck very much back in the 20th century. And this is surely going to inevitably cause people to turn to piracy?

In this country, the programme is shown on Comedy Central UK, which though sharing a name with it’s US counterpart is a legally separate entity – so has to negotiate and sign separate deals with it’s US sibling to show stuff on British screens.

The unfortunate consequence of this is that if you now try to watch any clips on the Daily Show website, or embedded into another page, British viewers are greeted by “Sorry, this clip doesn’t work in your country” – which is especially frustrating when you know that it works in pretty much every other country in the world (where they haven’t signed a TV deal, they don’t bother to restrict it).

This isn’t uncommon in TV either. For some reason, despite everyone in the western world having internet connections capable of accessing information from anywhere, new TV shows and films and the like are in most cases still sold country by country in the bewildering belief that national borders mean something still. And if a viewer can’t legitimately catch up online, won’t they be taking a trip to The Pirate Bay?

It’s not just The Daily Show. It seems very odd that I have to wait for Sky Atlantic to decide to show Game of Thrones or The Newsroom whenever they deem it best – when I’ve also got an internet connection capable of accessing the HBO website. Why can’t I even just pay HBO directly and get a show at the same time as the Americans?

The other bewildering part about this blocking decision is more specific to The Daily Show. TDS is a topical news programme that goes out four times a week. As it’s based on the news, unlike a drama or sitcom, it will lose a lot of it’s value almost immediately. Who wants to watch an old news broadcast a long time after the fact? And no one is going to buy a DVD of old episodes (imagine the BBC trying to release a ‘Best of Newsnight’ DVD collection for comparison).

So it should be within TDS’s impact to maximise the impact of each episode, and each segment within each episode as quickly as possible – to make content go viral and essentially use it as marketing material. If viewers are able to freely embed and share content on social media then that’s going to mean more people know a show exists, and increase the likelihood of them tuning in. So blocking content is as close as you can get to cutting off your nose to spite your face, without literally taking a knife from the kitchen drawer.

So whilst our technology gets better – and whilst we can now stream 1080p from around the world and all that… the problem isn’t so much the technical hurdles but the people ones. Let’s change this and sort out broadcasting rights for the 21st century.

James O’Malley