In case you haven’t heard, the excellent website Hulu will be premiering many primetime TV shows either on or before their on-air premier dates. In case you weren’t aware, Hulu is a very good online video site which has a good selection of TV shows and movies which can be streamed and is shown with minimal advertising. For a 30 minute TV show there are generally 3 commercials which are 15-30 seconds long. I was reading this article on Wired which brought up the interesting point, with Hulu airing the premier of Prison Break on the same day it will premier on TV, why have over a million people downloaded it (illegally) via torrent? This situation is not unique. On October 10th of 2007 Radiohead released their album “In Rainbows” only on their website. Fans were allowed to pay as much as they wanted (including $0, free) for the album, which was available by download. Well, no surprise when shortly thereafter the album appeared on torrent sites. Again, if it is available for free why would an estimated 2.3 million people download it (illegally) via torrent?
Note: while I would never encroach on either of these actions, I may know a few that do, and so it is their coalesced opinions and my own spin that I include here.
The answer is not made of up a few different sets of people.
First, there are the people that didn’t know about that availability, and therefore went to their main method of acquiring that content, torrent. The same way they have done for all the other episodes of Prison Break or Radiohead albums, fire up the tracker of choice and download away. These people cant be blamed, although publicized, the number of people who knew about them being available was still a very small set of all of those whom would otherwise be downloading. They might be on the front of the tech-section of every online news/blog site, but you have to read it to know.
Next, there are people who heard about it, but were too late. They had already downloaded the show/album before they heard of the promotion. At that point they could go back and watch it on Hulu or download it from the Radiohead site, but much of the allure is lost, although both sites have their revenue opportunities intact which I’m sure they are pleased about.
Finally, there are those people who did not agree with the terms under which they would get the media. Ads in the case of Hulu and a required email address and an ask for donations on the part of Radiohead. To be honest, I really don’t find either to bad at all. Ads on Hulu are significantly shorter then those on primetime TV, you generally only see one per break, and you have all the abilities of a DVR (pause, rewind, etc) without needing one. Radiohead simply asked for an email address (no spam to date) and ask for donations (which they made clear could be $0, no CC# required). What’s not to like? Some people just wont give in…what can I say?
As for these two occurrences, I think they are incredible. They demonstrate an embrace of technology by the two industries which have classically fought it off like Ugg boots. I just have two comments about these:
1. Hulu, why on earth do you not have an iPhone app out yet? Are you waiting for me to make it?
2. Radiohead, why not make the album available via torrent, you save on the hosting cost and make it more widely distributed? Seeing as 2/3 of the downloads came from torrent, why not focus on those people, and hitting them up for donations instead?