BitTorrent: Broadcast's New Best Buddy?

by , Mar 26, 2008, 4:15 PM
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The answer to the question above is -- in short - probably not. At least not for now.

But an initiative by the Canadian Broadcast Corporation points to a future scenario where a little innovation and a willingness to think outside the box may shake things up a little.

In the words of Professor Michael Geist, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-Commerce Law at the University of Ottawa:

"Last Sunday night, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Canada's public broadcaster, aired the finale of 'Canada's Next Great Prime Minister,' a television program that attracted national attention not only for its sizable audiences and the participation of several former Prime Ministers, but also for its emphasis on internet-based participation.

"As part of its nationwide search, the show conducted YouTube auditions, resulting in hundreds of videos and thousands of comments. It followed up a Facebook group that has hundreds of members who have posted photos, videos, and engaged in active discussions.

"Yet the CBC saved the best for last. Hours after the initial broadcast, it released a high-resolution version of the finale without copy protection on BitTorrent, the peer-to-peer protocol that is often linked with un-authorized file sharing.

"The public is now able to download, copy, and share the program without restrictions."

Claimed to be the first instance of such an initiative in Northern America, the exercise was apparently not wholly unique, taking its lead as it did from the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation, which only last month distributed one of the country's most popular programs in the same manner.

Unsurprisingly, this kind of experimentation is easier for state-funded broadcasters to explore in its earliest stages (when they have the budgets), but it would still be a mistake to assume that those broadcasters do not still harbor concerns about the fate of their programs, audience ratings and the like.

It would also be a mistake to blithely assume that this approach could only ever be applied by state-funded broadcasters by virtue of their public service remit and the lack of any need to derive advertising revenues and so forth.

With the kind of creative thinking prevailing in the media industries in these times of change, I can't help but think that one day the distribution cost efficiencies that both the Norwegian and Canadian Broadcasting Corporations have seen as results of these projects will be seen in the commercial realm -- and they will be complemented by similarly innovative revenue generation.

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