Legal or Not, P2P TV Is Coming

MAGNA Global USA media analyst Brian Wieser reported that while his company does not see peer-to-peer content sharing becoming a mass market for video content in the same way it has for audio, it will become a young-targeted niche market that studios, distributors and marketers have to deal with.

He argues that content providers should not just protect their old models of distribution through lawsuits and other purely defensive tactics.

Instead, Wieser said, studios should start thinking creatively about product distribution for "the day when producers and/or networks are forced to provide their content in online, on-demand environments.

Even if the network don't start looking at new models, he says, marketers will need to start thinking of ways to reach the audience that will co-opt that model themselves.

The report was essentially teeing up an upcoming Supreme Court decision on the Grokster case, in which the court has been asked to decide whether software like Grokster's, which allows peer-to-peer (P2P) computer network sharing of content files, makes the company a de facto accomplice to copyright piracy when the traded files are pirated--as the vast majority are, according to the studios.

If the court agrees with the studios that Grokster and similar software does violate copyright, it will slow, but not stop, the movement toward new tech TV content sharing, says Wieser, and "push P2P file trading further underground toward services that are literally and figuratively beyond the reach of the law," says the report.

If the court agrees with Grokster, P2P could become a distribution mechanism to rival other broadband entrants, like Verizon's VCast wireless mobile network or online media portals like Yahoo, says Weiser.

Either way, he says, marketers need to start planning for the "contextual" advertising--think product placement and integrated marketing--and direct response models, to reach the younger audience that will migrate to new tech TV.

As an example of how not making video content available online for fear of pirating is a losing strategy in the face of a growing desire for online access to TV, Weiser points to a report from UK P2P tracker Envisional that downloads of the UK's most-downloaded U.S. show, Fox's 24, went from an average of 35,000 for per episode in 2003-2004 to 95,000 for this season.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.