The Internet conundrum for commercial TV

The Internet is only now making the major TV stations think long and hard about how they are going to hold onto viewers. Geez guys, it's not like people have been downloading shows since before the good old days of Kazaa or anything like that. But guess what? Now that less tech savvy people are into it, and now that many people can get broadband connections faster than 1Mbps, it's a threat, and the networks are realising that they have to change their ways in order to keep most viewers happy.

One way they have changed their ways is by fast-tracking some TV shows so that they are shown a day or two after their air date in the US. They're not doing it for all shows though, just for the ones they feel are most important to their viewers. That's not enough though. The problem is that many of us have left TV land for good, and it's not just because the networks wait an eternity to air shows that people on forums have been talking about for months (imagine having to avoid the Internet completely so that you don't accidentally read a spoiler about your favourite show). It's because they show a total lack of respect to viewers and don't give decent shows a chance.

It's no wonder Australia is one of the biggest offenders when it comes to downloading shows. Anyone remember The Shield, or The Wire? Both of these amazing cop shows have been treated appalingly by the Aussie commercial networks. They got buried in late-night time slots, but not only that, they never aired on a consistent schedule. (I think Ten even put The Shield on Saturday nights once. That's how low they rated the show.) Channel Nine, with The Wire, basically performed an illusion whereby the show was pulled from its already hidden timeslot and never shown again. Not to mention how poorly they treated Curb Your Enthusiasm. Did they ever show that 'get in that ass, Larry' episode? I wouldn't know because I don't watch commercial TV anymore, purely out of spite.

It's obvious many people use their broadband connections to obtain these shows as soon as they are aired in the US, but what other option do we have while waiting for the DVD sets to be released? We can't watch them online legitimately because the US networks block international visitors from viewing the online streams. Nor can we buy exactly what we want from iTunes.

What I can't fathom is why a TV station will buy the rights to an overseas TV show and then let it sit on the shelf with the cobwebs. At least with digital TV, stations have the chance to show less popular shows on their second or third channels — assuming the ridiculous laws against multicasting are changed. A better solution will be to just whack them up on their Web sites and let us download them and watch them whenever we want.

The ABC is a champion in this regard. Did you miss the final episode of Very Small Business? Don't even know what the hell I'm talking about because you don't watch the ABC? No problem, go over to the ABC's iView site and click to watch it online. It'll count against your download quota unless your ISP subsidises the data (iiNet is one such ISP that lets users watch iView without it counting towards their quota), but it's worth it for the convenience, and depending on how fast your connection is, the quality is excellent.

For the commercial networks, it's a little more difficult to set up an iView-like site, mainly because they have to protect their advertising revenue. But they do show locally produced shows such as Kenny's World. They also let you watch the news. Let's face it though, there aren't many (any?) quality Australian-made programs on the commercial networks, so the pickings are slim.

There's no doubt that Australia is lagging greatly among developed nations when it comes to the delivery of TV shows over the Internet. Our Internet speeds are getting better, but with no local content stream, we are faced with the prospect of burning our quota on torrents in order to scratch our itch for quality overseas shows. Let's hope something changes soon.

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Elias Plastiras
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