It’s something I’ve said for a long time: make it as easy to pay for something as it is to steal it, and the average person will happily fork over their hard-earned cash. Look at the success of iTunes in terms of music and movies, Steam for games, even Kindle for eBooks. It’s a fairly simple concept - if you treat your customers well, they’ll reward you with their custom.
So, you may well ask, why are Aussies still pirating so much TV? And make no mistake – we are. In fact, according to TorrentFreak back in May, our island home was responsible for 10.1% of all the torrent downloads for Game of Thrones. Is this some sort of misguided loyalty to our convict heritage?
On the face of it, Australia has it pretty good when it comes to TV. We have over 15 free-to-air channels which, for a country boy who grew up with “Channel 2” and a snowy GMV-10, seems like heaven. We’re inundated with options for catch-up TV and subscription services that work on a massive array of set-top boxes, TVs, PVRs, gaming consoles and network streamers. Heck, you can even legally buy and watch television episodes on your phone or tablet while you ride a bus to work.
And it’s a broad range of shows to choose from across these services – even Xbox recently announced that its Xbox Live service would be offering over 35 TV shows including It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead and more. So unless your tastes run to telenovelas like Las tontas no van al cielo o Yo soy Betty La Fea the odds are good that you’ll be able to find a way to watch your shows legally.
So if the excuse of “it’s not available locally” – the old reason for turning to Channel BT – is increasingly holding less and less water, why are Australians still firing up torrent clients?
Quite simply, the issue is one of timeliness.
If I want to watch True Blood on Foxtel, I get it a week after the episode airs in the US. A little show called Doctor Who? Well the ABC “fast-tracked” the Christmas special so it was only 24 hours behind the BBC but everything else in season six (or season 32 depending on how you count) was a week after the UK. Up All Night with Will Arnett and Christina Applegate kicks off on Channel 7 on Monday, a mere 10 months after airing in the US. And in much promoted news, the premiere of season three of the Walking Dead will air locally (on pay TV) just 33 hours after its US debut.
Thirty-three hours – seems like nothing, right? Unless, that is, it’s 33 hours of you trying to avoid having the episode ruined by spoilers. In the olden days, when you had a show taped on VHS back home you could just put your fingers in your ears and shout “la-la-la” when a co-worker came over determined to discuss the Water Rats cliffhanger you hadn’t seen yet. But these days, more than ever, social groups defy physical borders – the ABC might not broadcast Asylum of the Daleks until a week after the Beeb, but we dare you to convince your Twitter feed or Facebook “friends” not to discuss it until then. You might be able to geo-lock TV, but you can’t geo-lock spoilers.
It’s not just friends either: earlier this year the SMH famously illustrated a story about Game of Thrones with a spoilerific image from the first episode of the second season – at a time when it was impossible for anyone but Foxtel subscribers with Showtime to have legally watched even a single episode in Australia, much less the season one finale. More recently Wired managed to spoil the start of the new season of Breaking Bad for anyone with an RSS feed of its news, two weeks before the season debuts on Showtime. And let’s not even talk about the ending of Lost.
But isn’t “no spoilers” just the war cry of the over-entitled TV nerd? Does any of this really matter? Of course it does – these are (for the most part) well-crafted shows that pride themselves on their tightly written plots and characterisation. It’s ok to get invested. We spend money creating a home entertainment system to enjoy these shows on and we spend money for the privilege of watching them as soon as possible, rather than waiting for the DVD release. So why do we have to wait any time at all?
This is entertainment and it’s ok to expect to be entertained and not have the experience ruined by an arbitrary delay and a careless word. And currently, the best way to do that for many is to download the shows on BitTorrent as they air in their country of origin.
A recent post on Gizmodo asked if Australians were too “entitled” about TV, citing the aforementioned Walking Dead 33-hour rush job. After some reflection, I’d have to say yes, we are entitled – entitled to receive the TV we pay for in a timely fashion.
And spoiler free.