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Internet kills the TV star

The unstoppable haemorrhage of illegal downloads worldwide has disrupted the demand and supply process relating to films and TV series with legal providers struggling to remain afloat in this digital free-for-all. 

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic
1 April 2014, 10:14am
True Detective: downloading allowed viewers to see the HBO masterpiece as it was aired in the US
True Detective: downloading allowed viewers to see the HBO masterpiece as it was aired in the US
With the season finale of fan-favourite HBO drama series True Detective having wrapped up earlier this month to a record number of international viewers – among them Maltese – we were once again reminded of just how many viable options are out there when it comes to the consumption of audio-visual material in the digital age.

The fact that True Detective is not supplied by local cable, satellite or digital providers does not automatically mean that Maltese viewers will not get to see it.

And therein lies the rub. As evidenced by the unstoppable haemorrhage of illegal downloads worldwide – damage further enabled by the violent reaction against anti-piracy attempts such as ACTA – the supply/demand process relating to films and TV series appears to have been irreparably disrupted, with legal/traditional formats struggling to remain afloat in this digital free-for-all.

The results of a survey conducted by the Malta Communications Authority appear to put paid to this fact, revealing that 26% of households view TV via the Internet (a marked increase from 19% in 2011), and that 51% of these households consider Internet TV as a good substitute to traditional TV.

Fan favourites Downton Abbey, Mad Men and Walking Dead: GO say that through channels FoxLife, FX and FOX, programmes in Malta can be aired as quickly as 24 hours after they are broadcast in the United States and the UK
Fan favourites Downton Abbey, Mad Men and Walking Dead: GO say that through channels FoxLife, FX and FOX, programmes in Malta can be aired as quickly as 24 hours after they are broadcast in the United States and the UK
Fan favourites Downton Abbey, Mad Men and Walking Dead: GO say that through channels FoxLife, FX and FOX, programmes in Malta can be aired as quickly as 24 hours after they are broadcast in the United States and the UK
Fan favourites Downton Abbey, Mad Men and Walking Dead: GO say that through channels FoxLife, FX and FOX, programmes in Malta can be aired as quickly as 24 hours after they are broadcast in the United States and the UK
Fan favourites Downton Abbey, Mad Men and Walking Dead: GO say that through channels FoxLife, FX and FOX, programmes in Malta can be aired as quickly as 24 hours after they are broadcast in the United States and the UK
Fan favourites Downton Abbey, Mad Men and Walking Dead: GO say that through channels FoxLife, FX and FOX, programmes in Malta can be aired as quickly as 24 hours after they are broadcast in the United States and the UK
However, Maltese viewers still enjoy a variety of options available to them as far as home entertainment is concerned, with local providers attempting to fuse the internet experience to more traditional formats.

A spokesperson from GO explained that while the provider remains sensitive to the internet scenario, “it does not condone or encourage illegal activities over the internet,” while stating that “it is neither its role nor its policy to police the activity of its customers”.

“Having said this, GO abides by its legal obligations to assist national authorities in fighting cyber crime by providing data and information in response to official requests,” the spokesperson said. “GO works closely with various production studios to, as far as possible, close the window between original broadcast and their airing in Malta”.

Citing the example of FoxLife, FX and FOX, the spokesperson claimed that “programmes in Malta can be aired as quickly as 24 hours after they are broadcast in the United States”.

Examples include upcoming episodes of Walking Dead and Homeland.  “In other cases, including for example Mad Men, Two and a Half Men, Big Bang Theory and Downton Abbey, programmes can be aired a week or less after they are first shown in the United States.”

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Melita also conceded that “more and more content is available on the Internet, whether through official or other sources”, adding that general trends show a decline in “peer-to-peer” downloads in favour of video streaming reflecting the fact that more online platforms such as Netflix, Hulu, Lovefilm or similar sites provide online video services.

“As an internet service provider, our focus is on providing high-speed and reliable internet connectivity to our customers. We are an enabler for consumer and business requirements over the internet.

On their part, Melita listed a number of available options by which they attempt to maximise their viewers’ experience – from media centre-capable set-top-boxes, through free video on-demand services as well as through ‘TV Everywhere applications’.

“We enabled our customers through minimum internet speeds of 30 Megabits per second and speeds of up to 250 Megabits per second; and we also offer our customers easy-to-use international VPN services that enables them to access more of what’s available on the internet in other countries – ‘Melita Global Connector’,” the spokesperson added.

It’s also worth noting that True Detective is merely the most recent tip of a very large iceberg. With American and British television series experiencing a spike in quality in recent years, viewers are now met with a vast choice, the frequency of which can only be properly catered for by the many avenues supplied by the internet – and with TV series being delivered in smaller, bite-sized instalments when compared to films, it makes their widespread popularity and consumption all the more understandable.

Satellite renegades

But the real threat may be coming from unexpected quarters. While the internet is a ubiquitous threat, GO and Melita appear to at least be taking some effective steps to play to its rules.

But those in the know have another option open to them should they choose to eschew both traditional broadcasting methods and online streaming or downloads. Over the last few years, providers operating in a legal grey area have been known to stream a vast array of international channels – an amount which neither GO nor Melita can afford to offer – by stacking servers at their own residence, which would then pick up the various channels.

The providers are part of an international network of domestic ‘server centres’ – equipped with satellite decoders and networked servers. The Maltese ‘agent’ will get his foreign connection to insert satellite cards inside his decoders, which are then streamed to Malta and branched out to various clients. The clients are fed with the satellite card codes automatically through the Maltese provider, while the channels are then unlocked and beamed to the client through their personal satellite dishes.

It’s as easy as pie to set up, and it can cost just €200 a year, excluding the set-up cost to install a satellite dish. Compare that to the Melita and GO packages, who provide 100 channels and premium film channels at rates than can be as much as €60 a month.

In a world of boundless choice, policing the way we consume entertainment has become a near impossible task. Much like the undead antagonists of the hugely popular television series The Walking Dead, just because you kill one of them, it doesn’t mean another horde of their compatriots aren't lying in wait.

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic is MaltaToday's culture editor and film critic. He joined t...
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