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The Bright side of "Napsterization of TV"

By WWWWolf in Op-Ed
Wed Feb 06, 2002 at 04:17:20 PM EST
Tags: Culture (all tags)

There has been some comments in the media recently about the "napsterization of TV": People use PVRs or TV tuner cards to record TV shows and then share them over the P2P networks such as Kazaa and Gnutella. Of course, it's a copyright nightmare.

But as in the case of music exchange networks, there's one thing in it that could make things better.

It could, again, open a good channel for some serious widening of our world.

In Finland, there's a TV program called "Toisten TV" ("the TV of the Other People") - a two-hour show where they show TV programs from around the world, subtitled in Finnish. Some of the shows are funny, some are serious, some are just wacky. The idea is great - I can say that the program is highly interesting, but it has a couple of problems: It's only two hours a week (sometimes it's too little, sometimes too much) and I can't pick what I want to watch!

The idea is nice enough, though, nevertheless. The fact that we see something every week from outside of our borders, outside of the "western civilization", and so on, is always enlightening.

I have recently noticed how ridiculously easy it is to subtitle programs using Sub Station Alpha. I was thinking of subtitling some of the episodes of Finnish programs (that are definitely not seen outside Finland) and putting them up for download.

Of course, no one would come to get it. No one outside the country would have heard of it.

I had something bigger in dreams: A place to exchange international TV content - a simple solution to finding foreign TV programs: "Hey, I heard people from country X talking about TV program Y. Have you seen such things?" or "Any suggestions for comedy series from place Z?" or such..

The Internet is global, while the TVs are limited to the broadcasting area. With the P2P networks, a large number of people who rip and subtitle, and some sort of indexing system, it would be possible to build the global "TV of the Other People".

Is there any problems with this? The first problem is that it may not work because no one is really interested, and people don't know where to look from. Everyone in the P2P networks circulate the same "mainstream" programs that are shown on television everywhere in the world.

The same has already been visible in music exchange networks: People want internationally known music, and music from their locally known bands, and nothing more - unless they are motivated to really look for "obscure" content or if they hear of it from others. The current P2P systems don't encourage the exchange of "obscure" content any way; the "obscure" content stays hidden until specifically requested, and can't be found without some serious effort.

The only "advertising" channel at the moment so far is the word of mouth and separate websites, which is, of course, hideously inefficient.

Of course, there is also the problem of copyrights (not to say that current networks would be any better) - the content producers may or may not be delighted to hear their works are being distributed elsewhere in the world.

And would the people be interested to see the content? Do people really even think of finding the obscure content? During the big media war of Napster, people said Napster helped them find obscure music - but I still have some serious problems finding "less than mainstream" content from major P2P networks. Is there a way to make people interested?

And would there be enough people to make the content available? Capturing and subtitling a TV program takes some time (for uninitiated, a hour of work per 15 minutes of program, I noticed). Would the technical limits make this not work?

So, if we ignore the legal problems - the idea may be decent, the goals of cultural convergence are noble enough, but would this idea fly at all?

Some sort of system like this would definitely be needed - what use is "promotion of cultural convergence" argument of P2P networks if the only things people swap are American music and TV series?

My own prediction is that the TV "napsterization" will not be bright; instead of cultural convergence we just have another channel to see the same old stuff we usually watch and nothing else, people won't even try to find or distribute "obscure" content, and the content owners don't like this idea at all.


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The Bright side of "Napsterization of TV" | 13 comments (13 topical, editorial, 0 hidden)
I've often thought about it myself... (4.00 / 3) (#1)
by m0rzo on Wed Feb 06, 2002 at 11:47:48 AM EST

This is coming from the guy who spends time downloading adverts from other countries... I think your idea is great. I love downloading "obscure" stuff, I enjoy seeing how people in other countries live and think. I used to reckon that we'd have global internet tv by now for broadband users, with good, interesting streaming high-quality content but as far as I know, it hasn't happened yet.

I'd eagerly download any software that concentrated on sharing tv programmes.

My last sig was just plain offensive.

Horizons (3.50 / 2) (#3)
by djotto on Wed Feb 06, 2002 at 12:08:23 PM EST

I love downloading "obscure" stuff, I enjoy seeing how people in other countries live and think.

The idea of learning about other cultures from their marketing output is somewhat... terrifying :)

As for the original article... please don't get hung up on P2P here.

The problem with Napster/P2P is that those systems are all based around searching. Mostly by filename. How can I search for "Finnish TV programme subtitled in English" and expect to get a hit? P2P doesn't help you unless you already know the name, which is why I'm very suspicious of claims that it helps to propogate obscure content. In fact, P2P (for music, anyway), is a parasite attached to regular marketing channels.

This is why I prefer Usenet - stuff gets posted, and I browse through it for anything that "looks interesting". That's a better model for propogating unknown media.

[ Parent ]
But it's getting better, slowly (4.00 / 1) (#12)
by binaryalchemy on Wed Feb 06, 2002 at 07:50:43 PM EST

Morpheous has file descriptions, if you searched for category:"Commedy" Keywords:"Finnish english sub" you would get some hits. But probably not anything you wanted. If you have a better keyword you can get better results. I found a few anime I would have never seen without p2p. But it's not very good yet, but it's getting better.
Defending the GPL from a commercial perspective is like defending the Microsft EULA from a moral perspective. - quartz
[ Parent ]
A 0 vote (2.33 / 3) (#2)
by jabber on Wed Feb 06, 2002 at 11:49:16 AM EST

Because I don't care enough to watch TV.. But if I can get a napsterized Project Guttenberg... ;)

[TINK5C] |"Is K5 my kapusta intellectual teddy bear?"| "Yes"

It won't work (3.00 / 1) (#4)
by jep on Wed Feb 06, 2002 at 12:24:06 PM EST

...because of the copyright. That aside, it's a good idea.

You're right, TV sucks. The producers of some TV-recorder boxes realize this. They have their ways of removing in-show commercials, letting users record digitally and connecting them to start P2P sharing.

I remember reading about a company like that somewhere, but unfortunately I can't remember what it was called. Needless to say, the reason for the story was that the company was taken to court by the TV networks.

Also, many P2P services have really good ways of getting users into new stuff. Napster had a buddy list where you could check out the rest of a guy's music when you found something you were looking for. It relied on the assumption that, somewhere out there, there are somebody who likes the same music as you do. Audiogalaxy has message boards attached to songs, and most of the messages there are along the lines of ... Like this? Then check this out.

I don't know how to do it, but I think if we can't get rid of TV altogether, we might as well make it more like the Internet. Some day, though, we will get rid of TV.

"Wow this is my first diary entry! This diary thing should be cool! I'll update every once in a while!" (See comment #4).
Napster TV vs Music (5.00 / 2) (#5)
by Elkor on Wed Feb 06, 2002 at 12:31:43 PM EST

The (in my opinion) big difference between Television and Music so far as Napsterization goes is the way the stations make money.

For music, the label that makes the CDs gets the money from the sale of the CDs to consumers, who then get to listen to the music. They make their money by controlling the distribution of their product. If more people listen to their music than buy it, they start "losing" money (from their point of view).

For television, the money is made by selling adveritsing space to companies, they then broadcast the show for people to watch, effectively for free. Their only concern for who watches the show is to keep track so they can adjust their advertising rates appropriately.

For most stations, it would actually be beneficial for more people to watch their broadcast, so they are less likely to object to individuals share their product, as they are trying to get people to watch their program. For them, the issue becomes making sure people watch the commercials. A problem which one station, at least, has a solution.

What one station in the US, Oxygen, does is creates a black banner at the bottom of every program. I watched Xena this weekend, and for the first 30 seconds of the program, this banner was filled with an advertisement for AOL. So, even if you record and watch the program later, you will still see the advertisement. At other times during the show, this space is filled with trivia about the program.

What I see happening is more and more stations adopting this banner on the programs for advertising purposes. This would work especially well for programs that are broadcast in letterbox format since there is already "black space."

If they did this, even if you recorded the program, you would still be subject to the advertising during the program, unless you put black tape over that part of your screen.

The conflict would come in when you have different stations broadcast the same program. The different stations would have different advertisements, so would preffer that their broadcast be recorded instead of a competitors.

The other objection on the part of the TV stations is that concepts like "Prime Time" and "Late Night" begin to lose their meaning as TV becomes more "on demand" than subject to their line up. Being a new paradigm (got 4 nickels?) it will take a while to accept. Hopefully they will handle it better than the Music Industry has.

Anyone else have thoughts?


"I won't tell you how to love God if you don't tell me how to love myself."
-Margo Eve
Letterbox format (5.00 / 2) (#8)
by miller on Wed Feb 06, 2002 at 02:42:24 PM EST

If you have a widescreen TV you don't get to see the black borders, potentially containing adverts.

Although come to think of it it might be possible to also hide adverts in the left and right porches which only get shown on widescreen TVs. I don't know how much space this gives though, and I suspect filling the bottom border with video could mess up TVs auto-switching mechanisms.

It's too bad I don't take drugs, I think it would be even better. -- Lagged2Death
[ Parent ]

*Not* illegal... for now. (5.00 / 2) (#6)
by Torgos Pizza on Wed Feb 06, 2002 at 12:41:40 PM EST

Taping a tv show and sharing it with others is not illegal in the US. It falls into the timeshifting category as set in the Sony Betamax legal case. Only when you rebroadcast it for commercial use do you violate copyright. Hollywood recognizes this and it currently lobbying Congress to change the laws to prevent P2P sharing. Sonic Blue is already being sued over their latest hardware that allows easy P2P sharing.

There are already television sharing networks being set up in a nascent form. For instance, my parents went out of town for a few weeks and missed watching "24". I was able to go online and download complete episodes in divx;-) format. Last night my son stopped my VCR taping Frasier. I plan to go online tonight and download it, Scrubs and Dark Angel. All commercial free. All perfectly legal under current law. I just don't know how much longer it'll stay that way.

I intend to live forever, or die trying.

...oops, paragraph cut off (5.00 / 1) (#7)
by Torgos Pizza on Wed Feb 06, 2002 at 12:51:50 PM EST

My middle paragraph was missing due to a cut n' paste error... here it is:

One last issue to deal with is distribution. Networks make a lot of money syndicating their shows. They sell their shows to other stations which in turn sell advertising to put into the shows. With wide distribution of television shows being traded from country to country, that model is left in jeopardy. PBS would suddenly face extinction. (But hey, no more pledge drives.) Shows, like Friends which makes most of it's money in syndication, could face a serious cash crunch if they couldn't afford to cover costs.

I intend to live forever, or die trying.
[ Parent ]

Its happening already (3.00 / 1) (#9)
by dasunt on Wed Feb 06, 2002 at 05:32:17 PM EST

Although this is a limited effect, and should be taken in the context of its surroundings, I can go to certain places and find fan-subtitled anime.

Yep, its foreign television (and movies) being subtitled for an English audience. Due to the nature of the distribution channels, it also leads to browsing of other works.

Just my $.02

There would be a pretty simple way to do this (4.00 / 1) (#10)
by 0xA on Wed Feb 06, 2002 at 06:24:30 PM EST

The technical solution to this is well established.

If you had a website where you could create an account and then input a list of all the programs you like it would be trivial to cross check that against other people's lists and suggest other programs. Amazon does this for book purchases, IIRC Rolling Stone does this for music.

I was on some music site a while ago (don't recall which, may have been RS) that let you build a list of your cd library and then suggested others you would like. I got a bunch of their suggestions from napster and then went and picked up 5 or 6 of the cds, all of which I loved.

This would work and would be very cool. You just need to figure out how to pay for it and how to avoid being sued into oblivion for it.

Old News To Some Of Us... (5.00 / 1) (#11)
by DarkZero on Wed Feb 06, 2002 at 07:45:38 PM EST

For many, many years, fans of Japanese animation ("anime") have been subtitling animated Japanese TV shows, movies, and direct-to-video series in several different languages and spreading them through whatever venue is currently popular on the internet. It began on VHS tapes and VCDs, but quickly moved to websites, FTP sites, IRC F-Servs, and now P2P programs. TV has been "Napsterized", at least by this article's description, since years before Napster even existed. It's just becoming noticed right now as it becomes a little bit easier.

I disagree with WWWWolf's idea that only "mainstream" TV shows and songs are succeeding on P2P services. They may not be as popular as Survivor and Top 40 hits, but I've never had to look far for anime TV shows, Japanese pop music, Hong Kong action flicks, or soundtracks for obscure video games that haven't been released in English. P2P services are just as diverse as they can be, and there are always several dozen people with the files I'm looking for, even on less popular services like WinMX.

It *is* illegal (3.50 / 2) (#13)
by Lelon on Wed Feb 06, 2002 at 08:22:53 PM EST

Hmm, a topic I actually know something about.

What your propose is in fact illegal. The rights to television shows are often segerated geographically. For example, the first season DVD collection of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" was released ages ago in the UK, but it could not be released in the US because of issues with syndication rights. Now that re-runs of Buffy air every night, the DVDs are being released in the states. So just because a show doesn't AIR in country X, doesn't mean the rights for the that show in that country aren't owned by someone. In fact, for every show in every country, someone owns the rights.

I personally like a television show called "Farscape". Right now new episodes air in the UK months before the US, so I download them off the internet (I don't get scifi, so I'd be downloading them anyway). I use IRC channels for distribution.

The sad fact of the matter is that share programs like Kazaa suck. Period. They're slow, unreliable, and therfore offer little content.

This sig is a work in progress.
The Bright side of "Napsterization of TV" | 13 comments (13 topical, 0 editorial, 0 hidden)
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