TV Networks Still In Denial Of BitTorrent Reality

The fact that it's easier and more reliable to download TV via BitTorrent than watch it via erratic broadcaster schedules is hardly a new development. However, commercial TV networks appear to be largely in denial about that threat to their business.

I got sent some survey results from Intel Australia last week, in which 417 Australians were asked whether they'd find it easier to give up their TV or their PC for a week. Overall, 61% chose to hang onto their PC.

That's not a surprising outcome, but it's also a somewhat ridiculous question. An Internet-connected PC serves as a highly efficient replacement for your TV set. Between catch-up sites, YouTube, BitTorrent and various other sneaky options, there's more or less nothing you won't be able to watch. The reverse isn't true. Even if you happen to have an Internet-connected TV, it won't deliver the same range of services.

However, the idea that the Internet doesn't have anything to do with television is far from uncommon. Most tellingly, that appears to be the official view of Free TV Australia, the industry body which represents Australia's commercial free-to-air broadcasters.

Last week, Free TV released the results of a survey of 1,500 digital TV viewers (note: PDF link) which revealed that one-in-four pay TV customers it had surveyed were considering ditching their subscriptions because they now had more choice on multichannel digital networks, while 77% of those that didn't have pay TV were less likely to get it. I don't doubt that many households have made this choice, but those numbers badly need some context.

Realistically, Free TV wouldn't have chosen to conduct that survey any earlier and get the kind of numbers it wanted. Even though the commercial networks have been entitled to run additional channels since January 2009, they took their sweet time about it. Asking the same question at the beginning of this year would have had very different outcomes, I suspect. But that's not my biggest issue with the results.

It's quite reasonable to ask whether the availability of more digital channels is changing viewing habits. But it's ridiculous not to also enquire as to whether online alternatives are changing that equation as well. One figure from the survey does suggest that we're not too pleased with the networks: one in three viewers says they are now watching more TV as a result of the digital networks. What the other 66% are doing is anybody's guess, but I bet some of them would say "I don't care about the digital networks because I manage my own viewing using online means". Yes, that's sometimes illegal, but it's so widespread that to pretend it doesn't happen is pointless.

I contacted Free TV to see if they had in fact done any research concerning the impact of the Internet on TV viewing habits. I'm still waiting on a reply. So we can only consider the irony inherent in this comment from Free TV CEO Julie Flynn:

The research also recognises Australians' appetite for more quality programming that you don’t have to pay for.

Except, it seems, when it comes to getting quality programming in a more reliable fashion than networks can manage.

Lifehacker's weekly Streaming column looks at how technology is keeping us entertained.


    I gave up on Oz tv two years ago. Decided to unplug for a month in Jan '09 as a test. Did not even notice it was gone after the first week.

    Funny thing is that I watch more content now than I ever did before and much better quality. The BBC produce amazing stuff that never makes that is not even available here.

    7mate do show some newer content, but GFL trying to watch 30rock, it keeps on jumping seasons like wildfire..

    I think more of people would watch network tv if they could be assured of some things, like episode continuity, continual time scheduling, and not playing half a season only to then hit some kind of timewarp and play that first half again (cough cough GO)

    "Free" TV: Unreliable programming, lowest common denominator show quality, ads, laughable HD quality

    Pay TV: slightly more reliable, better quality, ads, outlay of money, laughable HD quality

    Internet options (too many to list): reliable, no ads, free apart from bandwidth costs, programmed when you want it, play catchup in season and across seasons, better quality (still not real HD), more timely delivery, replay as often as you like, access to "niche" programming.

    Why would anyone watch Free TV or, god forbid, pay for the rubbish on Foxtel et al?

      Couldn't have put it better myself!

        Only one reason to even own a TV.... live sports!!!
        Unfortunately not a lot on free TV either which means paying for Foxtel... never going to happen

    I find one of the most annoying things about FTA TV is when the same programme is showed over three channels... same crap, different bucket. This negates the point of having the extra chanels. Surely there is enough content being generated through out the year to fill all of our stations and minimise the endless repeats of Friends (**Shiver**) and the other crapola from several years ago.

    Channel 9 blows chunks, 7 is grasping at straws and 10...? they are still broadcasting?

    The only reason I haven't YET resorted to BT is because of the questionable legalities.

    Been an avid BT user since 2005, I like having TV on Tap, get what you want, when available and watch it at your leisure. It Amazes me how many people underutilise their internet conections for this purpose. Its only a matter of time until the local networks lose internation rights and distributers start looking at global delivery, like BBC is doing.

    The thing is, if they even bothered to look at sites like this and the plethora of forums, they would likely ignore the growing evedence that they have dropped the ball long ago and continue with the attitude that they are the be-all and end-all of knowledge on the subject!! :(

    What? You can get TV wirelessly from the air?

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