Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Working On My TV Tan

There’s a piracy advert that always makes me laugh. It is not, as you may think, a recruiting video aimed at encouraging young students to join the pirate navy. There is no such thing. It is instead an advert that is designed to discourage people from buying pirated vitamins or downloading copyrighted minerals from the internet by equating these actions with such moral wrongs as stealing an old lady’s purse, shoplifting and flying a plane into a New York skyscraper because piracy apparently funds terrorism.

Unfortunately, rather than guilt tripping the public into giving up their immoral, barbaric ways and paying for their entertainment like they should, the advert has highlighted how certain rogue members, that make up the vast majority of the moral whole, will quite gleefully break the law without any ethical considerations or legal concerns if they think they’re going to get away with it.

‘You wouldn’t steal a car!’ the advert reminds us. If breaking into a car and selling it on cheap was as big a challenge as clicking a mouse once, twice, maybe three times in order to download a song, then there would be no cars left in the world. There would only be an endless, never-seen stream of stolen cars flowing like credit around the black market.

The internet is by its very nature an absolute bastard for copyright law enforcement anyway. The anonymity of the millions involved makes policing or controlling file sharing in any effective way as pointless a task as asking Sisyphus to push a boulder up Mont Blanc. It just can’t be done.

Radiohead’s recent decision to release their album on the internet for free/a charitable donation (if you feel that you’re the kind of person who just can’t bear to see these millionaire rock stars go without cash) wasn't a brave step in a new direction. I've been able to download albums for free for the past ten years now. It was just a sign that bands and labels have started to give up and realise that they can’t win the battle against the millions who are downloading their songs for free. They're going to have to adopt some new tactics to deprive us music fans of our cash, which is why more and more bands are starting to exploit t'internet for cash prizes.

Even Cliff Richard is using the internet to promote his new record. The more people that pre-order his next shitsandwich slab of fetid drivel online, the cheaper it will be when it’s released. If, for my pre-order, I received a section of Cliff’s vocal chords that had been forcibly torn from his throat then I would be more inclined to being seduced by such an internet bargain.

At the moment though the music industry is still a long way from using the internet properly to promote, sell and spread music to the public at large. In the meantime hopefully the TV industry will cotton on quicker to the advantages of internet based media. It doesn’t look good though given that they’re arresting internet pioneers like the 26-year old man from Cheltenham who ran TV Links.

TV Links was a magical place, full of joy and wonder. Where childrin could skip through a vast library of links to TV shows, cartoons, documentaries, anime and movies, a bottomless pit of visual entertainment. Almost any TV show you'd care to mention, from Red Dwarf to Louis Theroux and back again via QI, was available to all who ventured into that domain. And for free!

Now I like TV a lot. There are amazing shows out there, both old and new, a lot of which in recent times have come from America. From dramas such as the Wire, Deadwood and the Sopranos, to South Park, Heroes, 24, Firefly, Battlestar Galactica, the list never ends. There is not a chance I would be a fan of any of these shows or many others were it not for sites like TV Links.

Living the hectic nocturnal schedule I do, I’m never consistently in at the right time to watch television. This is why I missed 24, Lost, The West Wing and the Sopranos when they first came out. I simply could not guarantee seeing every episode and these shows are like newspapers, miss them for a couple of weeks and any reality outside your own becomes a distant blurry memory. If it weren’t for internet TV I would not know about these shows or many others because I would never have watched them in the first place. The internet has reinvented what it means to watch TV shows, a method which is far more liberating and accessible than any previous system.

The BBC’s World News channel YouTube and Channel 4’s On Demand program, which makes much of the Channel 4 archive available to watch for free online, are signs that the industry is waking up and using the internet the way it should be now that it’s possible to instantly stream near DVD quality videos, but it’s still not enough. It’s a stubbornness on the part of the TV networks not to see that this is the way a lot of people watch their TV now, and the number is only going to get bigger.

What NBC should be doing, for example, is hosting every new episode of Heroes for free on their website, surrounded by advertising, and with a guaranteed good connection. They would get millions more hits, they would know exactly how many people were watching it thereby making the horseshit ratings system a thing of the past, a whole new legion of fans would be available to watch the shows, and I wouldn’t have to trawl around loads of different websites trying to find one with a working, albeit illegal, link to the episode.

The entertainment industry needs to realise that it can’t win against the internet. Sure, TV Links was taken down but there were already another bunch of websites ready to take its place. One of the main reasons it was taken down was because of the links it had to pirated movies. But the thing is, pirated movies are rubbish. If given the choice between watching some shitty, grainy handheld camera version of the latest epic on my laptop screen, or the 50 metre screen, surround sound cinema version that will blow your head off, I’d always go to the cinema because that’s an experience you can’t recreate at home. And blockbusters still makes x hundreds of millions so they can’t be too badly off.

With music and television, however, the advantages of using computers and the internet to access the media compared to the traditional methods are numerous, just like the advantages of supermarkets over having to go out and gather all your food yourself from the wild. Instead of waving their hands about and complaining about how the ol’ grey mare she ain’t what she used to be, the music and TV industries should be at the forefront of internet entertainment, leading the charge and surpassing all the other sites that offer a vast range of TV shows for free. If only to save themselves the hassle further down the line.

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