Australians appear to be big downloaders of television. I have said this before but this is hardly surprising given the delays Australians face in the airing of new television episodes. An article in The Register (UK) today confirms that along with some interesting other statistics.
According to a survey based on a sample of 119 current or recent free-to-air TV series’, Australian viewers are waiting an average of almost 17 months for the first run series’ first seen overseas. Over the past two years, average Australian broadcast delays for free-to-air television viewers have more than doubled from 7.9 to 16.7 months.
A survey of TV programmes found that while some aired very close to their US air date, many popular programmes were significantly delayed.
Average broadcast delays were shortest for TV series’ on the Seven and Ten Networks, at around nine months. The average delay for TV series’ airing on the Nine Network was 22 months, while TV series’ on ABC and SBS aired on average 23 and 30 months behind the US.
Actually the ABC figure was unfair because they show few US shows and the sample is skewed by The West Wing which they took from Nine.
So why Australians appear to big downloaders of television is hardly a mystery. The mystery is why this situation persists. After all, there are no technological impediments to broadcasting television close to when it is aired in the US. Indeed, that occurs for some reality television and tonight’s Oscars will only be a few hours behind. No one will be downloading that.
Let’s look at the winners and losers. Setting aside its potential illegality, Australian viewers are the winners from being able to download television. They are better off than had they had waited. Another set of winners are internet service providers. And I think they know it. Telstra’s Bigpond has a section to download software. A big part of it is the ‘Peer to peer file sharing’ section which makes easily available BitTorrent, KaZaA, Morpheus, eMule and a number of others. So they are making it easier for their customers to find these solutions.
And what of the losers. First off the rank would be the owners of the copyright on television programs. Each downloaded product is potentially a lost customer — whether it be from broadcast royalties or from later DVD sales. Second would be Australian broadcasters. Each downloaded program is a lost eyeball for advertising revenue.
But should we weep for them. Only so much. Let’s face it, they could solve this problem tomorrow by broadcasting US programs right away. If there is a lag of a few hours or even a couple of days that would dramatically kill this market. After all, what is driving Australians to download is not just the fact that they like television but that they like it sooner. Are those the customers broadcasters would care about losing? One would have thought so but their behaviour belies that.
And what of the copyright owners? Well, they don’t have to hand over exclusive rights to Australian broadcasters. They can insist upon quick broadcasting or else go to cable. They could offer legal downloaded programs through iTunes. Indeed, they could do that immediately, charge for it and then charge broadcasters for the rest. It would surely only increase their profits compared with the current situation.
To be sure, both these groups would prefer not to have to think about illegal downloads. But, in reality, it has exposed a situation where their customers actually like their product. Why not sell to them and make rather than lose money?