Television Studios Embrace BitTorrent

From loathing and resisting BitTorrent and the illegal distribution of their shows to encouraging downloading and leaking pilots, TV studios have a come a long way. The creator of 'Weeds' is stoked that someone pirated her show.

Pushing DasiesAn unusually large number of pre-air TV shows have been appearing on BitTorrent sites months and, in some cases, several months before their scheduled air dates. Many of those leaks appear to be inside jobs, and TV executives are starting to realise that leaking shows to BitTorrent can help promote them.

In a recent interview for the Seattle Post, I speculated that it seemed likely that TV executives and writers were purposefully leaking their yet-to-air shows to BitTorrent to build up hype and an audience. It looks like I wasn’t too far off.

An anonymous Warner Brothers Television executive has admitted he helped leak the pilot of “Pushing Daisies“, an upcoming TV show. His reason? He wanted to make sure the show “got out there,” and wanted to “help the cause.” The executive didn’t upload it himself; he got his neighbour’s kid to do it. And the kid was delighted to, because it pushed up his ratio on some private network.

You might think, as I did, that someone made this story up. Turns out, the executive used his work e-mail ID (yep, @warnerbros.com or whatever) when he contacted Rick Ellis of AllyourTV.com. When asked about what made him leak the pilot, he replied:

I just thought it was a good idea. Even though […] I don’t have any direct stake in the show, it’s a really great project. It’s tough to describe, though, and while it makes great sense once you’ve seen it, it’s one of those shows that will only work if people do tune in at least once.

Which, by the way, is one of the reasons that ABC and Warners are promoting the show in all sorts of venues. The pilot has been screened at everything from auditions for ABC reality shows to Comic-Con. We all believe in the show. And if I can do something that might in some small way help…I can live with that.

One last thing…some of this is also about building pressure with the network. I don’t think anyone here involved with “Traveler” was exactly thrilled with the treatment ABC gave the show. But it didn’t really have any champions inside either company. And I suppose all of us are hoping that this show gets the support it deserves.

Further evidence of TV studios embracing BitTorrent can be found in an interview with Jenji Kohan, the creator of ‘Weeds‘. The third season of Weeds was leaked around a month before it was to be aired on TV. Although another week is left before season three is broadcast to the world, hundreds of thousands of people from around the globe have already downloaded and watched episodes of it. And what does Kohan think of this? She’s glad her show’s gaining a larger audience: “Revenue aside, I don’t expect to get rich on Weeds,” she told Advertising Age jubilantly. “I’m excited it’s out there. Showtime is great, but it does have a limited audience.”

‘Weeds’ and ‘Pushing Daises’ aren’t the most popular of shows. The first has a relatively small following and the latter has yet to gain one. But both are mainstream, television shows, not podcasts. Kevin Rose being ‘cool’ with fans torrenting Diggnation a week before it’s released to non-subscribers and a primetime TV show’s creator doing the same are two vastly different notions, with the second having a significantly greater impact on traditional broadcast TV.

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