In common with many Internet-based media consumption mechanisms, accessing of TV shows online was pioneered and developed by pirates, who in turn were driven by studios’ apparent inability to predict and then adapt to their customers’ evolving needs.
Today, the vast majority of Internet TV show downloaders simply fire up a general site such as The Pirate Bay or specialist outlets such as EZTV, hunt down a torrent, and then count down the minutes until it’s ready to watch. But how did that torrent begin its life and who put it there?
To find out, TorrentFreak has been speaking with UNKN, the founder of a TV show release group responsible for putting hundreds of episodes online. The group are passionate about what they do and they’re passionate about BitTorrent, its technology, and the communities they serve.
Upon chatting with UNKN it’s immediately apparent that he’s not only polite but modest too, and admits that his route to ‘The Scene’ was borne from a random email.
The beginning and entering The Scene
“It all started a few years ago when I began uploading some Spanish TV rips on public torrent sites, just for people and for fun. I tried to keep the best quality possible so I decided to use the x264 Scene ruleset for the encoding process,” he explains.
As reported here on TorrentFreak at the time, the Scene had just ordered all releasers to ditch the old XviD format and begin uploading in x264. That UNKN chose to follow suit for his P2P uploads caught the eye of a pirate higher up the food chain.
“Someone from the Scene saw some of my rips and they contacted me with an offer to join a Scene group, the name of which i’ll have to keep a secret. I instantly said ‘yes’.”
Things didn’t go to plan. Although he appreciated the effort that goes into Scene organization, UNKN came to feel too restricted by their strict rules and regulations. He missed the freedoms offered by the P2P world.
Back to BitTorrent
“This may sound weird but to me P2P is better than the Scene. The Scene is like an ordered library where there is only one copy of a book. P2P allows you freedoms that the Scene does not,” he explains.
As UNKN explained his recent history it became apparent that he really missed the variety of the P2P world, where anyone can contribute and add to the material already being produced by the Scene, rather than be restricted by it. It was time to move on.
“An Internet friend suggested that I found a P2P TV release group. At the beginning I thought it was a bad idea, since Spanish TV content is not downloaded as much as English TV content, but we decided to start anyway.”
Shortly after PERCEPTiON was born, free to do whatever they wanted on the most open file-sharing networks in the world. The Scene’s aim is to keep TV shows to themselves, but UNKN and friends have a different idea of how things should be done.
“To me the best part of BitTorrent networks is sharing. On P2P everyone shares, even if only downloading. It’s public to everyone and everyone is welcome to download and share without the knowledge that’s required to have access to the Scene. The main thing is that P2P provides us with a way to share quality TV releases with people around the world.”
Of course each system has its drawbacks and BitTorrent is no different. UNKN misses some of the speeds available in the Scene and seems to miss some of its automated organizational aspects too. He’s also mindful that the level of security available in the Scene is a luxury that many casual BitTorrent users don’t enjoy.
“The Scene is much safer than P2P. The Scene is a perfect system that has programming and bots behind it. P2P is much more simple than that and is public so everyone may be tracked and therefore it’s more insecure,” he notes.
UNKN and his fellow members say they take precautions to reduce some of the extra risks of releasing via BitTorrent, but perhaps understandably don’t want to be drawn on too many of the details.
“To do our best with security we have some protocols. I can’t explain all of them but as an example we never seed from our personal computers. To any uploader in a similar position (I’m talking about TV releases only) we suggest to never try to make money releasing, that’s illegal. The spirit is sharing, not earning.”
The day to day – capping, encoding and releasing
Currently PERCEPTiON have 41 pages of TV show releases on ThePirateBay alone which indicates they’ve been pretty busy. So how do they operate on a day to day basis?
“A typical day in our lives is centered around chatting about what is being aired tonight and who should record it. I personally prefer to start recording ten minutes before a show is announced. This recording is done with a HDTV tuner/recorder from a terrestrial broadcast,” UNKN explains.
“After recording it’s time to remove commercials. Using some software we remove the commercials from the recording so we have a clean episode/show. This one is called ‘original’ or ‘master’ and if it’s bugged (drops or any fail) any rip from this original will be flawed too.
“After checking comes the compression. We are a P2P group but we keep x264 Scene rules for encoding (PDTV, HDTV and 720p HDTV). Compressing on x264 takes a long time even if it’s done on a good workstation. Speed to releasing is not our priority though, quality comes first.
“After compressing it’s time to create the directory for the release, name it, and add an .nfo file with information about the release. A lot of groups use automated scripts to do this packing process, we prefer to do it manually to avoid any fail. At this point the next thing is to move the release to a secure location from where to seed it. After all this we upload the torrent on various public torrent sites.”
Public torrents and the spirit of sharing
Perhaps unsurprisingly the sites favored by UNKN are TPB and KAT.
“The Pirate Bay is like the mom of torrenting, it’s the biggest free P2P site and it represents a movement for defense of the Internet. KAT is my second favorite site. In my opinion it’s very well done site, with categories for every show/movie and the different qualities of rips for that show/movie. It’s very easy to use and I especially like how KAT users are commenting and rating, which is nice for the uploader.”
Although PERCEPTiON releases turn up on some private trackers and file-hosting sites, the group’s preference is to keep things widely available and at zero cost.
“Some private trackers try to get an advantage and earn money from something that should be public and free, and I think that isn’t good. Everyone deserves to get the best quality possible, not only the invited ones, especially when sites only offer invites in exchange for money. That’s disappointing.”
Since they are located in Spain, UNKN and his friends have enjoyed the country’s historic approach to file-sharing, but of course with the new legislation being touted at the moment that could be all set to change. How do they feel about that?
“Users are always downloading and no one can stop it. This is how the Internet works. So one way or another every time that anything related with downloading on Internet is shut down the effect is that there will be another five different systems to download. People will not stop downloading and making it forbidden is not the way.”
The last word from UNKN
“If you have arrived here at the end of this interview I want to tell you thanks personally, thanks for reading. Keep downloading, don’t ever forget to share, but remember that there is a lot of work carried out by people involved in the production/distribution of TV-shows. Please support companies if you appreciate their product.”