Pushed into piracy

I’ve never been big fan of piracy. In fact, of all the insults you could throw at the illegal-downloading community, I probably fit into the category of “too lazy”.

I quite like plonking myself down on the couch to watch TV shows on TV. And after all, I ain’t no criminal. But after years of resisting the urge, I’ve succumbed. And it’s worrying how good it is. Now, I might be dropping myself into hot water here, but I feel that a recent bout of average programming decisions has almost forced me into it.

Take Sons of Anarchy for example. It’s arguably one of the best gangster dramas on TV since The Sopranos, but just one hour a week is plain torture. Especially if you miss an episode – there’s no top-up service online for pay-TV subscribers. In today’s digitally savvy media world, this is crazy.

And it doesn’t stop there. HBO Asia is seasons behind The Tudors in the US but insists on running repeat after repeat of the first and second seasons. Same too for FX, a channel I have to admit I’ve become highly addicted to.

With great programming at its fingertips, such as Mad Men, Californication and Sons of Anarchy, viewers are subjected to endless repeats of Seinfeld, Frasier and The Family Guy. The channel even made a decision to forgo its regular programming for an entire week to celebrate the end of Family Guy’s run on FX. Much of the up-to-date programming is squeezed in between endless hours of repeats.

This is simply not enough and it’s easy to see how dedicated viewers are forced into illegal downloads. Piracy in this instance has the upper hand.

At this year’s CASBAA conference, content and content piracy became major talking points after fresh data indicated the pay-TV industry lost an estimated US$1.94 billion in revenue to piracy in 2009.

While many abhor the idea that piracy continues to flourish pretty much unchecked, you have to question the industry’s stance when solutions to this widespread problem are still years away.

Pay-TV subscription rates in Asia are among the highest in the world. And networks are continually looking for growth opportunities. In the past month, both HBA Asia and Fox International Channels have announced plans to expand their channel offering, but with its current programming looking decidedly stale, where’s the incentive to sign up?

Isn’t it about time the broadcast business wised up to the realities of a modern media world in which TV content is freely available almost as soon as it has gone to air in the US.

A logical move would be to make the content available on platforms such as iTunes or ad-supported YouTube channels. I for one would shell out a few dollars to view current content and writers and pay-TV providers would get the royalties they so rightly deserve. But until that day, it seems illegal piracy will thrive.