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On Downloading TV

February 19th, 2005

A new story out there in the news is the downloading of TV shows. Apparently, Britons are the biggest culprits–it’s pointed out that since it sometimes takes “months” before American TV shows get to the UK, impatient fans turn to BitTorrent to download the TV shows from the Internet. Almost one in five of all TV downloaders is in the UK.

A few months, eh? Try a few years, if ever at all, here in Japan. Even if you have cable or satellite, getting your favorite TV shows is hardly guaranteed, and usually lags three or four years behind the original broadcast. But then, there are not as many people here who would enjoy The West Wing, for example, in English only. And ironically, many people downloading not-yet-broadcast shows are in America; some shows like Stargate or Battlestar Galactica (the newer, much better one) are broadcast in England or Canada before the U.S. sees them.

While BitTorrent is available on the Mac, it seems best suited for the PC. On the PC, there are several choices, but Torrents work the best. KaZaA is old news, poorly executed and usually slow. Shareaza is a much better download platform, but interestingly, Shareaza when used as a BitTorrent platform is the best I’ve heard of (when clicking a download link, specify Shareaza as the app to handle the torrent file). If the torrent file is popular, speeds in the tens of KB/sec are very common, and downloads over 100 KB/sec are not unheard of. The Daily Show, of all things, downloads faster than it takes to view the show–though you can’t watch it as it comes down as BitTorrent downloads take in bits and pieces of the file in a haphazard order, only allowing for viewing once the file transfer is completed.

TV shows are usually available as torrent downloads within a few hours of being broadcast, often in HD-quality AVI video files (viewable with VLC Media Player on the Mac) at about 350 MB for a one-hour show (really, 43 minutes since the commercials are all cut out). Sci-Fi shows are numerous among the most popular, but “24” tops the lists.

You access torrent files by going to sites which track them. The media industries are on the case, though–most torrent tracker web sites have vanished from the face of the Earth lately, probably due to threatened lawsuits or harsher legal actions. But it’s a futile gesture on the part of the media companies–eventually, trackers based in countries that will not prosecute such cases will be left standing. Frankly, the anti-piracy movement will always be like sweeping back the ocean–there will always be a next wave (Napster to KaZaA to Torrent to… ?) waiting in the wings. So what is the industry to do? Well, as I have already laid out in a three-part blog entry (part 1, part 2, part 3, the third part being the most relevant here), I think the industry has to join ’em to beat ’em, and eventually switch their paradigm to narrowcasting TV shows with advertising preferred by individual users. As I explain in the entry series, I believe it could end up not only defeating piracy, but actually increasing revenues for the media companies. In other words, you have to stop fighting the inevitable future and take control of the technology by offering something better.

Torrent sites simply keep track of all the files which are currently being traded; they link to “torrent files” which are small packages of information on how to connect to other users to download the file in question. Right now, the better torrent sites still standing include BTEfnet, TV Torrents, and Torrent Spy (the last one, incidentally, remaining as one of the only sites to track files other than just TV shows). And not surprisingly, many torrent sites originate from the UK.

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  1. February 19th, 2005 at 15:53 | #1

    Luis – If you ever need help with an American show, please contact me. I am a total tv junkie and would be more than happy to help you anyway I could in getting it.

  2. Quinlan
    February 19th, 2005 at 21:23 | #2

    Another useful torrent site that has movies, software, etc. is http://isohunt.com/. They’re based in Canada so they have survived thus far. It’s just a search engine to find threads, but it works quite well.

  3. February 20th, 2005 at 21:27 | #3

    Azureus for MAC OSX is better than any of the PC torrent apps I’ve used.

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