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CBC: Who Needs TV?

2008_03_19brokentv.jpgUniversity of Ottawa law professor Michael Geist is reporting that the nation’s public broadcaster is about to take a hugely progressive step in media distribution. On Monday, the day after Canada’s Next Great Prime Minister (the political fantasy reality show filled with keeners and bored ex-prime ministers) airs, the CBC is going to release a high-quality copy of the episode via BitTorrent, without any digital rights management (DRM) protection.
The CBC would be the first broadcaster in North America to do something like this, allowing anyone to download the episode and distribute it how they want to—burning it to a DVD, putting on it an iPod, whatever. Right now, any media content with DRM restricts the user to viewing it on particular machines, with certain keys, or for specific periods.
The CBC, at least on paper, is a not-for-profit corporation that’s supposed to benefit the Canadian people, so this is a logical step in the right distributional direction. Here’s hoping that we’ll see more content delivered over P2P, and even more experimentation with content distribution on the CBC’s part. Soon enough, CBC Television may no longer be exclusively on television.
But in the end, who doesn’t want to watch Canada’s Next Great Prime Minister over and over again?
Photo by Mute* from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.


  • StagedAndConfused

    I think it’s a brilliant idea. I’ve actually forgone tv altogether in favour of downloading the select shows I like and watch regularly. jpod continues to be one of the top downloaded shows on bit torrent, so it’s a shame CBC canceled it. Meh.

  • bigdaddyhame

    good luck once the copyright lawyers get a hold of this. Any CBC legacy content will need to be vetted to see if it has any licensed material and new agreements will have to be forged. Don’t get me wrong, this is a good thing, but I think some of the more tasty content will probably get bogged down.

  • Ben

    Maybe they should creative commons license the show if they are doing this.

  • Patrick Metzger

    Of course they can give away their programming; they’re taxpayer funded.

  • spacejack

    Yeah I think bigdaddy’s got a point, licensing for a lot of stuff is tricky (don’t forget about ACTRA and all those legacy contracts with actors etc.)
    Newer productions tend to look at acquiring online distribution rights though, so they may be more prepared for this sort of thing in future.
    Honestly though, with bittorrent reducing bandwidth costs to almost nil, why even bother with the expense of broadcast & cable anymore? Operating costs could be brought down to something far more sane in the 21st century. Maybe they could even jettison the idea of mixing advertising revenue & tax funding, which has been a complete disaster for CBC. (Why is TVO, operating at a fraction of the cost, providing such a higher level of quality content? Because they don’t have this Jekyll/Hyde personality when it comes to deciding what to put on the air.)
    One contrary point to free online distribution though: I’ve visited BBC’s site looking for content once in a while and have been blocked because of my foreign IP address (so much for Commonwealth benefits.) I suppose one could argue that because Canadian taxpayers are funding it, only we should get (free) access.

  • Diisparishun

    Call it a hunch, but I’m going to guess the CBC lawyers did indeed sign off on this one before moving ahead with it. Maybe that’s why it’s restricted to a single reality show rather than, well, the CBC stable of programming.
    Honestly though, with bittorrent reducing bandwidth costs to almost nil,
    That’s not quite right. Bittorrent doesn’t change bandwidth costs. It shifts them around. CBC’s hosting costs become nil — so the statement is true for the CBC. Bittorrent just shifts the cost to local access providers by turning the whole Internet into an edge-driven data centre.
    (Not particularly efficient. But hard for anyone but the ISPs to try and charge for.)

  • Diisparishun

    Spacejack: I assume that, by putting the show on Bittorrent, which is not geogated, the CBC is basically granting free viewing everywhere in the world. Probably on the assumption that there would not be a big resale market in other countries for a Next Great Canadian Prime Minister reality show.
    Which seems reasonable.

  • spacejack

    I think that’s a reasonable assumption for most of CBC’s programming (that there’s not a lot of potential for resale in foreign markets.)
    Not that CBC wouldn’t love to have that kind of attention. I’d guess their approach, them being the starved-for-attention-whores that they are, would be to first attempt to acquire the “problem” of significant foreign leechers. Then to pursue some financial return. (Can’t say I’m too sure about that second step though, since it rarely, if ever, happens beyond hockey & olympics.)
    The problem with eventually pursuing foreign revenue like this is that you’d eventually have to abandon bittorrent for their most popular material, unless it can be somehow walled off from foreign IPs. Maybe you could do that with the tracker? I dunno enough about bittorrent to say. But they’d probably get criticized for bait & switch tactics.

  • Diisparishun

    It’s rarely CBC’s call to make, though — a lot of the stuff they program is bought from third parties (jPod, MVP, The Border, Little Mosque, etc.). Third parties are unlikely to tell the CBC that sure, while you’re at it, here are the worldwide rights too — unless the CBC specifically bids on those rights. Which would mean paying more.
    I’d guess their approach, them being the starved-for-attention-whores that they are, would be to first attempt to acquire the “problem” of significant foreign leechers.
    No. They would not do something they do not have the right to do. And they would not be able to secure the right to do that from the people they bought the programs from. At least not those who want what next Sophie has.

  • spacejack

    No you’re right Diisparishum, I went off on a bit of a tangent. Didn’t mean to imply they’d broadcast/publish content without authorization. They generally abide by any IP laws (lawsuits are expensive.)