Illegal piracy of TV and movies is becoming an epidemic around the world, and Australia is leading the way. We're top of the charts for illegal downloads of new shows and have been for some time. So with piracy so high, why in the name of sanity would Channel Seven decide to delay the screening Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, of one of this year's most anticipated shows, by not just a few hours or even a whole day, but by a whole week? Have you people learned nothing?
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D debuted in America last night, and according to the early numbers it's the highest rated drama premiere in four years on American television. Instead of fast-tracking its hot new property into last night or even tonight's schedule, Seven has decided to wait a whole week until 2 October to air the premiere which has already been online to download in beautiful 720p for about 23 hours now.
Have TV networks learned nothing in recent years? All you have to do is look back through the headlines to see that piracy — particularly of TV shows — is a problem that is getting worse and worse as seasons progress.
Game Of Thrones is a lightning rod for TV pirates. Last year, it was revealed that more people watch the show via BitTorrent than they do on TV, starving HBO of a massive revenue stream. Of all the countries in the world, Australia was declared to be the number-one downloader per capita of the swords-and-sandals epic (Update: Look. Some of them wear swords, some of them wear sandals. Deal). Not once, not twice, but three times we have held the jaunted crown of internet piracy.
Breaking Bad is another example. A show about crooks seems to certainly attract them, with more Aussies pulling down the show illegally over the internet tubes than anyone else in the world. Again.
The BBC's Top Gear is one of the worst offenders, with Aussie viewers made to wait over a week for Foxtel to air the episodes of the world's most popular car show, while the torrents sit online just waiting to be downloaded.
Those are just three massive titles that attract pirates by the shipload, but there are loads more, like The Walking Dead, How I Met Your Mother, Hannibal, and The Big Bang Theory. Even the goddamn Vampire Diaries attracts pirates like moths to a poorly-scripted flame.
Torrenting is so popular that Australian government employees are wasting taxpayer dollars doing it at the office.
Kim Williams, former head of News Limited, came out last year and slammed pirates (quite rightly) for downloading shows and movies illegally. Williams spruiked stats showing that "as much as 65 per cent of all material consumed via Bittorrent is downloaded illegally." Quite a number indeed, but what Kim overlooked was the potential solution for piracy.
Our theory went that if content was available cross-platform at a reasonable price, piracy rates would drop dramatically. Look at Netflix as an example. Netflix offers all-you-can-eat movies and TV on a simple, cross-platform hub for just $US7 per month. Netflix found last year that wherever they set up. Netflix is so popular now that it accounts for one-third of all internet traffic in America. That's nothing to snuff at.
Combating piracy with the remedy of availability has seen some Aussie TV networks respond with some fantastic ideas.
The ABC made the excellent decision recently to put episodes of Doctor Who live on its iView platform one week before it aired on terrestrial TV so that people would still watch it legally rather than download it. People complained about the quality in which it was uploaded, but at least it was available. It turned out to be the ABC's most popular premiere ever on iView.
Foxtel channel FX started airing The Walking Dead within 33 hours of the show going live in the US last year to cut down on piracy, too.
Channel Ten is the network that deserves the most praise today, after announcing that it will broadcast the first episode of the eagerly awaited spy thriller Homeland online within 15 minutes of it airing on Showtime in the US. Amazing. That is how you solve piracy.
In Seven's defence, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D premieres next week in a double "movie-length" episode. That means the first and second episodes will be shown back to back on October 2, which presumably means that Australia will catch up to the US and air episodes within 24 hours of each other. But the question will be if anyone will watch given that the episode will have been online for 22 hours already? All you need to do is look at the comments on our Avengers of S.H.I.E.L.D trailer post to realise that people are watching it early.
Seven can still take solace that they aren't the worst offender when it comes to relegating Australia into a content backwater. That illustrious title still, sadly, belongs to our friends at SF for Continuum-gate.
Change is happening, but not everyone is learning the hard-taught lessons of piracy.