Space Ramblings

The New TV Piracy Threat

The FBI filed a criminal complaint Friday against a Chicago man for allegedly uploading four episodes of the hit series “24” to LiveDigital.com, a video hosting site, before their primetime broadcast. If convicted on a felony count, Jorge Romero, 24, could face up to three years in prison.

The action represents a renewed aggressiveness to crack down on Internet bootleggers, particularly in the television industry, which has not been as vocal about anti-piracy activities as the music and movie businesses.

Probably because the television industry hasn’t really faced the problem nearly as much before. TV depended primarily on advertising revenue from first airings of a show. Piracy normally didn’t kick in until significantly later if at all. Even bootleg copies of TV series really didn’t function as much of a threat.

With the rise of BitTorrent however, you saw an explosion of people uploading TV shows a day or two after they aired which was more of a threat but still didn’t undermine the basic model that much. However as TV shows began to cash in by selling DVD season episode packs at the end of a season, the game had changed because TV shows were no longer waiting years to bring out classic packs of video tapes but were now integrating DVD sales into their revenue stream right out of the gate. Torrents were now a problem.

But the fecal matter didn’t really hit the fan until YouTube and its 50 cousins made it easy to actually transform the Torrents into a watchable product that millions could see. Where torrents had been a complicated and techy business, video sharing sites including YouTube and social networking sites like MySpace quickly created an environment where a TV episode could be uploaded and widely distributed within a day, thus impacting the revenue model. Particularly for shows which in addition to their DVD sales, had also gotten into the iTunes business, selling episodes a day later and/or airing them on their own websites complete with commercials, e.g. ABC’s Lost.

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