First it was music, then movies, now it's the humble small screen that's getting increasingly targeted by British downloaders. The target? Whatever's new and hot on US TV, apparently. Bitorrent is the wild frontier where these shows are located and if they're real diehard fans, they may even edit out the ad-breaks for you. Now that Six Feet Under may come to an end soon, it's Desparate Housewives, 24 and the final series of Enterprise, which are the hottest download targets for up to 100,000 Brit “pirates”.
It's not really the shows as such that will suffer, but the fact that if you don't sit around waiting for up to two years (or four years in the case of Law And Order), then you won't want to watch the 15-20 minutes per hour (or 10 minutes per half-hour) of adverts which are booked alongside the shows- and so the broadcasting or importing networks lose money. If the downloading trend is not legitimised, a MPAA-style legal action has not been ruled out.
Many of us, even if we don't download, will only be crying crocodile tears for the US TV studios. Apparently the US TV industry is ultimately under threat like everything is in America these days. What they won't tell you of course, is that two UK terrestrial channels passed on the third series of, for example, 24, because they demanded too high a price, and Channel 4 were unwilling to pay the asking price of Friends for the spinoff Joey, deciding it wasn't as good- Five stepped in and saved the day. Ask any retailer what happened when the DVD box sets for 24 were reduced to £18 each? You know the punchline- they flew off the shelves, and that's not including everyone who paid nearly £40 for it.
In addition to these, there are the shows, which are successfully imported by terrestrial channels such as The X-Files, Buffy, Angel and CSI. Try and buy their box sets and in the UK, they will be split into two parts for maximum profit. In America, where consumers may decide not to let themselves get ripped off, it's rare to find a set where an entire single season won't be included in the whole box. Let's not forget everyone who has entire series- in the case of The X-Files, old Star Trek and Friends, nine and ten years' worth - of videotapes, sitting around and falling apart, just ready to be bought all over again on DVD.
So if you hear a US TV Network exec moaning about Brit downloaders, relax - the real fans and will subsidise the pirates, like they always do. We'll have to wait and see whether the fee paid per episode will be small enough to begin a legal downloading service for TV, as has undoubtedly worked for music in the past year. In the meantime, our relatives with Sky can keep getting us all the hot new stuff as soon as possible…