Steal This TV Show -- And Please Talk About It With Your Friends

Some $100 million has been spent on entertainment piracy. Yet every year more network prime-time pilots can be found illegally on peer-to-peer Web sites.

Is that the wrong financial formula? Some critics say sarcastically that the networks are subversively releasing them -- unofficially.

Networks swear they are not doing this. But perhaps they should take another look. More than a few producers -- especially those with mostly under-the-radar cable programs -- like promotional ideas that build unofficial buzz.

So when is piracy actually a tool for underground marketing a TV show? The line is fuzzy, and you probably couldn't get any two TV marketing people to agree on what piracy is, anyway.

More than a few networks offer up previews of their pilots on the associated Internet destinations. The lone exception is ABC, which says its marketing team won't approve sneak peeks -- figuring they'll ruin its official and traditional network "opening."



Some complain there is no universal piracy system among producers and networks -- and because of that, stuff slips through the cracks. They also say that better piracy technology -- that is, assigning an individual watermark for every single DVD screener that goes to each critic, TV business writer or production person who needs to get one -- would be more expensive.

Unlike movie studios, networks generally have 22 episodes a year to sell to viewers and advertisers. So for some network executives, letting go of one episode may not be a big problem right now -- but could be a growing one. For instance, Fox had a problem with "24" when a man pleaded guilty to uploading the first four episodes of season six illegally.

Peer-to-peer network aficionados say there is little difference in networks putting out sneak previews (other than the timing) and what winds up on so-called torrent sites. The end result is the same -- creating buzz, either positive or negative.

I have a better idea. Networks should just save the $100 million on piracy and send out those DVD screeners -- with TV commercials already included. It would be similar to what the networks already do with their TV shows on their digital platforms.

Networks will get more marketing buzz, extra advertising revenue, and, no doubt, fewer viewers looking to download shows from peer sites with no easy means of fast-forwarding or editing out the commercials.

Then put a message on the DVD that will get everyone's attention: Please steal this disc.

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