A Challenge to the BBC & SyFy

Doctor Who and a Dalek with the TARDISIf you need any reason to think that media companies are not aware of the changes in their business, you only have to look at Doctor Who.

I love the reboot, especially now that Steven Moffat’s at the helm. I loved Season Five (and not just for Amelia Pond), and am right with io9 in liking the Christmas Special.

Of course, I watched all of seasons one through four on Netflix streaming. And Season Five is available at iTunes… but I don’t have cable.

So how the hell have I seen the Christmas Special already? 1

I only watch a select number of shows. I tend to watch them “clumpily”. I tend to watch them on my computer. Paying $50 (or more) a month for the privilege of getting two channels – and then not watching 90% of the content on those two channels – doesn’t make economic sense for me. (Using Amazon’s Watch Instantly means I spend $10 for Season 5 of Doctor Who and $2 an episode for Caprica & SG:U… which is somewhere around $10-$16 a month for what I actually use.)

So I was pleased to see that the BBC wanted to “stamp out online piracy” with the Doctor Who special. Surely they’d make it available for those of us online. It’s a Christmas episode, after all. Even dedicated DVD watchers will want to see this one on Christmas. The system’s already set up at iTunes…


Nope. Still just the promo trailer. (This screen cap is for over 24 hours after the show first aired in the UK.)

What about Amazon then? They have everything, right?


On the other hand, the screenshot below is pretty comparable to what it looked like four hours before BBC America showed the episode in the U.S (the screenshot is actually from today):

There’s over nine thousand people that want that seasonally themed episode. I’m willing to bet that a good number of them would pony up the dollar to three dollars that it would have cost to watch the episode.

Instead, those nine thousand (really, more, because who knows how many have already disconnected?), plus everyone who went to a friend’s house to watch the show, are lost revenue for the BBC.

I mention SyFy for the same reason. They (@SyFy said it as well, but John Scalzi’s said it better) also hold that

…actually showing up for a TV show when it runs for the first time still matters if you want to keep a show on the air.

And that makes sense, if you rely on the TV ratings system and advertisers. Just for S&G, I went and looked at the reported tracker numbers for the last aired episode of SG:U at the Pirate Bay. There’s still about three thousand people connected, a month after the show aired.

Maybe I’m just an optimist. I think that especially in fandom, we have the will and temerity to support the shows we love. (Remember, the Star Trek franchise almost died twice…)

So here’s the deal, SyFy. You’ve already announced that you’re going to cancel SG:U, right?

Challenge us.

1. Put the remaining episodes up as video-on-demand as they air.
2. Seed the torrents yourself. Put up a version with an advertisement (advertising dollars, right?) and a message from the cast and writers to support the show.
3. Ask the pirates to watch the advertisement, and pitch in a few bucks.
4. If the money reaches a certain goal, then commit to another episode of SG:U. (Or bonus content, or something.) If not, the money goes to a geek-worthy charity like Child’s Play or the CBLDF.
5. Tell the world, sit back, and see what happens.

You don’t lose. At worst, you donate some bucks to a charity and look good doing it. At best, you may stumble onto a new way of funding the stuff you love to do. The pirates are not going to suddenly watch cable TV – because you’ve already canceled the show. They might, however, chip in money to help get more.

This goes double for the BBC. You’re a bloody world-wide organization. You have such a long-tail to draw upon, it’s not even funny.

Sure, you can do nothing. And then the pirates will still go on pirating. And others will head over to their cable-owning friend’s house.

The piracy will never end.

But the shows we love will.

1 I have friends who have cable and satellite TV.

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