Saturday, July 14

Did 'Battlestar Galactica' kill television?

Source: Syfyportal

As the Internet continues to make significant strides in gaining respectability among mainstream media, more and more attention has been focused on the true power of the World Wide Web.

Some of that power was felt just a couple weeks ago when Web-savvy viewers of the CBS series "Jericho" convinced the network they were not paying enough attention to how the show was being distributed through non-traditional means -- you know, the Internet -- and in the end, had vastly miscalculated the audience for the show. On top of that, the campaign to organize the "Save Jericho" campaign came almost completely through the Internet, and CBS is poised to return the show either later this year or early 2008.

Other genre shows, however, have tapped into the raw energy of the Internet, whether it be the well-marketed and fan-produced "Star Trek: New Voyages," or simply by accident like SciFi Channel's "Battlestar Galactica."

"Although live broadcasts are still big business, time-shifted video podcasts have exploded the myth that the value of video resides in when people view them," wrote Wired blogger Adario Strange in a recent column.

That was proved by the first season of "Battlestar Galactica." Because of a partnership SciFi Channel made with British satellite company Sky One, the first 13 episodes of the series were aired across the pond, forcing American audiences to wait months. Well, OK ... audiences that didn't realize the episodes were available online -- albeit unlawfully -- and knew how to download them.

"For months, viewers in the [United States] downloaded the show illegally via torrents," Strange said. "The vibrant conversation in the [United States] regarding the show lasted months as time-shifted episodes trickled in from Europe one-by-one. The value of all those time-shifted Internet views created the hype that made the show a success in the [United States], not simultaneous viewings."

Strange was responding to an analysis made by HDNet executive Mark Cuban who claimed, among other things, that the "more people that see content when it is originally 'broadcast,' regardless of the distribution medium, the more valuable the content" as well as "the greater number of people that watch content simultaneously, the greater the emotional attachment of the viewer."

Instead of ignoring this, many alternative platform observers have called on networks to find ways of utilizing such available media rather than panning it. Mark Pesce, the co-creator of the Virtual Reality Modeling Language -- or VRML -- shared the missed opportunity in a blog post as far back as 2005, especially when it came to the first season of "Battlestar Galactica."

"While you might assume the SciFi Channel saw a significant dropoff in viewership as a result of this piracy, it appears to have had the reverse effect: The series is so good that the few tens of thousands of people who watched downloaded versions told their friend to tune in on Jan. 14 [2005] and see for themselves," Pesce wrote. "We all understand that this piracy is technically illegal, technically a violation of copyright, but we're in a hell of a bind if we're telling the audience to sit down, shut up and do as you're told when it comes to television viewing."

In fact, Pesce argued at the time, production companies and even networks can introduce sort of a faux-product placement in such feeds with something as simple as an advertising logo bug on the corner of the screen, or other sorts of paid advertising to turn the market from one of piracy to one where real revenue can be generated.

"The idea of an advertising payload attached unobtrusively to the television program has a certain appeal," Pesce said. "It can be ignored, but it's always present. The audience can't edit it out of the program without destroying the content of the program. Audiences will learn [to] accept them -- so long as the advertisements aren't too busy, distracting or otherwise obnoxious."

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