A new peer-to-peer file sharing technology, BitTorrent, was employed to share the quarter-gigabyte audiovisual files of "33". Unlike older forms of internet downloading, where too many requests for the same data can clog up internet links and send servers crashing. BitTorrent distributes files more and more efficiently, as more people join the hunt for the data. Everyone looking for bits of a file - say, an episode of Battlestar Galactica - shares the pieces they've already located with anyone else who doesn't already have that piece. Since the pieces are scattered randomly among all the users who want the data, there's a lot of to-and-fro between the users; rather than being a request for one copy of one file on one server, it's as though many hundreds of hands are copying and exchanging playing cards. You may start out holding only the Ace of Hearts, but soon enough you'll have a full deck.
While you might assume the SciFi Channel saw a significant drop-off in viewership as a result of this piracy, it appears to have had the reverse effect: the series is so good that the few tens of thousands of people who watched downloaded versions told their friends to tune in on January 14th, and see for themselves. From its premiere, Battlestar Galactica has been the most popular program ever to air on the SciFi Channel, and its audiences have only grown throughout the first series. Piracy made it possible for "word-of-mouth" to spread about Battlestar Galactica.
Now we have a paradox: the invention of an incredibly powerful mechanism for the global distribution of television programming brings with it a fundamental challenge to the business model which pays for the creation of the programs themselves. This is not at all BitTorrent's fault: the technology could have come along a decade ago, and if it had, we'd have stumbled across this paradox in the 1990s. This is a failure of the value chain to adapt to a changing technological landscape — a technological desynchronization between producer and audience. Once again, there's no need to find fault: things have changed so much, and so quickly, I doubt that anyone could have kept up. But the future is now here, and everyone in the creative value chain from producer to audience must adapt to it.
Wednesday, May 25, 2005
Piracy is good
Hi people - I haven't had much time to be up-to-date on every single blog in the universe, but I did find one interesting article (in two parts) - it's about my favorite topic - how the internet will hopefully destroy all other media and how it completely changes the dynamics of distribution. Here's the first part, and the second: