I just watched the pilot episode of Pioneer One, the "first ever made-for-torrent" TV series, and I liked it a lot!

The story is intriguing:

An object in the sky spreads radiation over North America. Fearing terrorism, U.S. Homeland Security agents are dispatched to investigate and contain the damage. What they discover will have implications for the entire world.

The pilot episode has been filmed on a budget of a mere 6000 dollars (all of it funded by private donations), and for that, the idea has been very well executed. I suggest you all see it, as the video is freely and legally available through VODO. Pioneer One is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial Sharealike license.

What I find very impressive about the show is that unlike traditional producers, they embrace rather than demonize P2P file sharing. Therefore, the makers of Pioneer One have the chance to show that grassroots film-making (or rather, TV-series-making) that is successful beyond a tiny scale is possible by actively engaging the Internet community (for both funding and distribution) rather than using the Internet as a simple, tightly controlled broadcasting medium as if it was a glorified TV set.

When the article on Pioneer One faced (and fenced off) a deletion request due to alleged irrelevance on Wikipedia, I wrote the following in the deletion discussion:

Keep. Not for it being a low-funds TV series, as it is not exceptional in that respect, but for its attempt at being successful through Torrent distribution. [...] The main reason for its notability is that we see a huge effort on the side of traditional media distribution groups against P2P networking as a concept. They essentially argue that P2P is [not] tightly controllable and therefore it must be objectionable. Making an active effort to legally distribute media content via P2P is much more a political statement for the legitimacy of P2P as a cultural phenomenon than it is a way to keep distribution cost low. Compare this to other attempts at making a (mini-) series popular on the Internet (Dr. Horrible, for example) that while being free-as-in-beer (initially) did not use P2P technology (or any free-as-in-speech distribution channel), and you'll see how radically different Pioneer One is in that respect. [...]

Sure, it is not the first free-to-torrent project. But it's the first free-to-torrent series that might actually become successful. And it is a way for the filesharing community to show what it is really about: Free speech, not free beer.

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prisoner...in a fake world
Creative Commons License photo credit: confusedvision
Hulu.com, the on-demand streaming video website established some 18 months ago by the US media companies as a platform for professionally produced content such as documentaries and TV shows, has signed a few contracts for the international market. For the international customers, that would be a good start, but it wouldn't go far enough. Why is that, you might ask?

What the consumer cares about When it comes to digital media, there are three major aspects the consumer cares about. They want to have:

  • The content they like
  • At the place and time they prefer
  • in the format they require.

The content they like... What sounds trivial at first has long been a major problem, both nationally and internationally. As an international consumer, content is often not available at all, available later, or not available in the preferred language. For example, all American TV shows that reach Germany at all (and that's much fewer than there are on the US market every year) are dubbed to German. This may be pleasant to some, but it also makes it insanely hard to acquire the original language versions, as the original sound track is not broadcast even on digital TV. Buying the DVD is an option, but that can sometimes take several years after the original air date. Some shows don't make it to DVD at all, either because the media companies don't deem it profitable, or because the content licensing takes forever (e.g., the first season of Crossing Jordan took over 6 years to be released, the other five are still MIA).

Hulu can help with this. Where it has been impossible for customers to get the TV shows legally that they would like to watch, people started file sharing on the Internet. With projects like hulu.com, the media companies can do what they should have done all along: Offer a legal way for the customers to watch what they like, without being forced to download it elsewhere, with questionable legality.

At the place and time they prefer... This is another issue that's long been "built" into TV broadcasts: When a show is gone, it's gone. And despite the fact that "on demand" has become somewhat of a buzz word lately, it's been been more pay-per-view movie related and even PVRs aren't quite the breakthrough yet in this respect: If you forget to plan ahead, your show won't be recorded, and you are out of luck. Tivo is helpful there, but once again, unavailable internationally.

When it comes to the place, things get even worse: If you want to watch your favorite TV shows on the train or in the car, you are as of yet completely out of luck: I don't know of a PVR that allows you to easily take its content with you, say, on your iPod. Hulu itself is isn't very helpful there either: Even with the growing availability of 3G phone networks, the Flash-based hulu player won't work on the iPhone, for example, leaving you stranded right there and then.

... in the format they require. ... which leads to the last and most severe problem: Even with Hulu offering content more widely than before, customers are still bound to a very limited distribution channel. So far, this means it's browser-only. For mobile devices without Flash, that's a bummer, and furthermore there's no offline viewing, so you are equally left out as before while on the road outside major metropolitan areas. At last, hulu has not made content available any easier even in the living room, by most recently prohibiting its content from being shown through boxee, a free media center software.

It's long been some sort of crazy "competition" between different content providers to control formats rather than content as strongly as possible, and in effect, they have lobbied many parliaments in the world (including the US and Germany) into laws prohibiting format conversions on grounds of "circumventing encryption". While audio content is more freely available now (in the DRM-free iTunes, Amazon, and Wal-Mart music stores, for example), video content is still greatly restricted and virtually not convertible to other formats legally. And there is no indication that the video industry makes any effort not to repeat the same mistakes the audio industry already went through.

Long story short Long story short, the push for international availability of hulu.com is a good start for the consumer. It may soon get the content consumers want to them, almost when and where they want it. Still, the content remains highly restricted and it is not in sight if and when that will change. Until the consumers are able to achieve format transparency through legal channels though, many may keep employing file sharing or DVD copying as their only viable alternatives.

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Here's a hilarious JC Penny ad that reminds you what will happen if you get your girl the wrong gift this year (hint, vacuum cleaner: thin ice!).

Phew. Good that I didn't step into that one ;) Of course, badly timed delivery spoiled my surprise today already, but you can't have it all.

(Thanks for the link, Jenny!)

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Yay! Apparently, the Euro 2008 soccer games are going to be broadcast on ESPN. Lucky me that I just moved into my new place that comes with a full cable package :) Phew!

Looks like I now have an important appointment today at 2:30pm!

Update: Jean Pierre mentioned that zdf.de actually also offers a live stream of the Euro 2008 soccer games on the web. Awesome! So far I haven't been able to try out if it works in the US too though, as my internet connection is not quite strong here.

Update 2: Well hello, there's a live stream for the US too on uefa.com. (Thanks for the link, Tim!) And it even seems to have quite a bit more games on it than the German stream which only covers Germany's games. Tomorrow afternoon, I'll check it out!

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