Entertainment

CBC-TV first in North America to release prime-time show on BitTorrent

CBC Television plans to release its Sunday episode of Canada's Next Great Prime Minister on BitTorrent, a file-sharing service that would allow users to copy and share the show.

Canada's Next Great Prime Minister online Sunday with no copy restrictions

CBC Television plans to release its Sunday episode of Canada's Next Great Prime Minister on BitTorrent, a file-sharing service that would allow users to copy and share the show.

Panel of former prime ministers includes, from left, Paul Martin, Kim Campbell and John Turner, and Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams. ((Paul Couvrette))

The release, free and without ads or digital rights management (DRM) software, is believed to be the first release of a prime-time show in North America.

"We're very aware that the broadcasting environment is changing," said Tessa Sproule, executive in charge of digital programming for factual entertainment at CBC Television. "We want to explore new ways to do what we do."

Canada's Next Great Prime Minister, in which contestants debate and vie in front of a panel of former prime ministers for the title and a $50,000 prize, was chosen in part because it was a reality TV show owned by CBC.

Unlike dramas, which might involve an outside producer, there were no issues of rights or compensation for actors, writers or others, Sproule said.  A co-owner of the show gave the green light for the BitTorrent experiment.

"One of the major limitations for using BitTorrent is rights issues," Sproule told CBC News. BitTorrent is blocked by some internet service providers because it can be used for illegal sharing of films and TV shows.

Contestants try out via YouTube

The show was also a prime candidate because of its technology-literate audience, she said.

Contestants were invited to audition via YouTube, an experiment that resulted in creation of more than 140 five-minute videos in which contestants put forward their case online. Some even set up accompanying Facebook campaigns.

"There was so much response — they were debating each other on the videos…They knew more about this environment than we did," Sproule said.

Sproule said she had been considering releasing a show with BitTorrent for some time, and learned that the Norwegian public broadcaster had released one of its shows. The BBC has also released free shows, but with DRM software that prevents copying.

The Sunday release is very much an experiment — there is little technology that can track how many copies of the program are created or what is done with them after the initial download.

"We're going forward, but we have to figure it out as we go," she said. "We'll be trying various ways of delivering content and we'll learn from it and see if there are other shows we can apply this model to."

Although this download won't have ads, one likely experiment will be adding advertising to the download.

"We'd like to do more programs in future," she said. In the meantime, CBC has asked downloaders to add to a blog about their experience.

The experiment has attracted international attention, but Sproule said private broadcasters likely won't be interested until such downloads provide a way of generating revenue.

 

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