Doctor Who’s BitTorrent Box Set won’t change the pirates

The BBC is experimenting with offering a 10 episode “box set” of Doctor Who episodes via BitTorrent. Hurrah for experimentation — but don’t expect it to change much in the way of pirate behaviour.
Usually, when folks search for Doctor Who on BitTorrent, they’ve no intention of paying for it. But right now, for $US12 (~$15.72 AUD), via BitTorrent (that’s the company, not the client protocol, a mistake that many people make), you can grab a bundle of episodes comprising Rose, The Empty Child, The Doctor Dances, The Girl In The Fireplace, Blink, The End Of Time (Parts One and Two), The Vampires Of Venice, The Doctor’s Wife, The Rings Of Akhaten and Listen, spanning every Doctor from the “New Who” era of the program, along with a wealth of linking material presented by the current Doctor, Peter Capaldi.
It is, by any reasonably objective measure, a genuine bargain. OK, I’m in no real way “objective” when it comes to Doctor Who, but what you’ve got there are some genuinely great episodes from every current Doctor’s era, including Neil Gaiman’s excellent “The Doctor’s Wife” and Steven Moffat’s brilliant “The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances” two-parter. Also, there’s The Rings Of Akhaten, but you can’t hit a six every time you go out to bat. Still, if you wanted a low-cost way to introduce Doctor Who to someone who’d never seen it before, this would be a superb way to do it.
The BBC is trumpeting it as an “experiment” with the BitTorrent company, brought about, according to The Guardian, due to coffee meetings between BBC digital execs and their opposite numbers at BitTorrent. The idea is that it’ll spark and reinvigorate those who would otherwise pirate content into actually paying for it.
As I said, I think it’s a great bundle, and there’s absolutely no problem with the price. In fact, I don’t think (outside of piracy) that you could score those particular episodes any cheaper individually through any of the services that already offer them. As long as the BitTorrent stream is reasonably well populated, it could also be faster, and it’s clearly in BitTorrent’s (the company, that is) interests to keep it well seeded.
Still, I suspect that it won’t make a significant dent in the piracy problem, for a couple of simple reasons.
Firstly, there’s the fact that these are established, already broadcast episodes. Yes, I totally get that this is experimental, but the issue here is the hype around Doctor Who (and similar programs such as HBO’s Game Of Thrones) is never larger than when there’s new content to share. Aside from the linking bits — which, I’ll admit, I’m tempted to pay for even though I’ve got the episodes already, because I’m that kind of fan — it’s all stuff that’s been widely disseminated across multiple channels already. Including BitTorrent.
That’s the second problem. BitTorrent is fighting its own user base in a way, because it doesn’t take a whole lot of work to find these episodes on currently seeded torrents anyway. That’s a huge and ongoing problem for content creators, but the reality here is that there’s a large swathe of the audience that, even when faced with a budget price point, will most likely look at the torrent, look at the free alternative and decide to keep their fifteen bucks and change in their pockets. It’s greedy, it’s short sighted — but it’s sadly what happens a very great deal.
Which circles back to the entitlement culture that’s grown up around a lot of entertainment produced today. It never fails that when I write something like this, a percentage of the feedback is “Oh, but they make us wait too long anyway” or “Oh, but they charge too much anyway” leading inevitably to “Oh, I’ll just pirate it anyway, LOL”. Yes, those are all statements I’ve heard endlessly in the race to justify piracy.
Only that last one is honest, and it’s only honest in the sense that, especially in the case of a show that was fast-tracked by the ABC last season for simultaneous broadcast, that comes out on digital media just about as fast as the bits can be assembled or the discs can be printed, piracy is still predominantly about people being impatient and greedy. They’d raise a fuss if you decided not to pay them their hourly wage (or plead poverty, but we’re talking TV here, not food or running water), but it’s fine to do it to other people, because this is the Internet, and the prevailing ethic is all too often that if you can take it, you will.
One dollar fifty per episode for Doctor Who is astonishingly good value in any way, shape or form, but I’ve no doubt that there will be those who would decry it, and state that they’d happily pay if only it was a dollar. Drop it to that, and suddenly fifty cents would be the yardstick. You can see where that thinking is headed, but it’s all too often the only argument that pirates use when justifying their own actions.

About the author

Alex Kidman is a multi-award winning Australian technology writer, former editor at Gizmodo, CNET, GameSpot, ZDNet, PC Mag, APC, Finder and as a contributor to the ABC, SMH, AFR, Courier Mail, GadgetGuy, PC & Tech Authority, Atomic and many more. He's been writing professionally since 1998, and his passions include technology, social issues, education, retro gaming and professional wrestling.

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