How Democracy changed everything, and what the CBC needs to do to compete with the pirates

Democracy: Internet TVWell, perhaps Democracy hasn’t changed everything, but it certainly has changed the way I watch television shows.

Democracy is a free, open-source, Internet television platform. Its guts are made of:

  1. An RSS aggregator
  2. A Bittorrent client
  3. A video player based on VLC

When you put these three things together, magical things start to happen.

Let’s say, for example, that I’m a big fan of the TV show The Office. I can visit a site like tvRSS, and get a list of torrents of The Office episodes, or an RSS feed of torrents of The Office episodes. I can then plug that RSS feed into Democracy, and it’ll monitor the feed for new torrent files. When a new episode becomes available, Democracy grabs the torrent file and starts to download the episode.

So in effect, I’m subscribed to a TV show.

Of course, Democracy also lets you subscribe to regular video podcasts (like Brian Hogg’s excellent dotBoom — which I’m really enjoying these days), but it’s the RSS/Bittorrent stuff that I think is really slick.

If this type of television distribution becomes more popular, I wonder if any major broadcasters will decide to make their shows available in this way. From television consumer’s perspective, RSS/Bittorent distribution is a much nicer option than on-demand website-based streaming. But of course, from the broadcaster’s perspective, the latter’s much more attractive, for advertising reasons.

A while back, MuchMusic offered full episodes of their VJ search as a video podcast. Right now, the CBC offers segments of The Hour as a video podcast. I wonder how much could be saved in bandwidth costs by using RSS/Bittorrent distribution.

And if there was ever a broadcaster that should be distributing its programming this way, it’s the CBC.

Take for example, Little Mosque on the Prairie. I’m not a huge fan, but somebody, somewhere, liked the show so much that they decided to digitize it (or make an off-air HDTV rip, or whatever), and seed it as a torrent. Right now, tvRSS has a listing for all eight episodes of Little Mosque. If I wanted, I could download the entire season illegally, for free, right now.

But let’s imagine, for a moment, if the CBC had forseen that they’d have a show on their hands that some people would enjoy enough to pirate it on the internet. Let’s imagine they’d worked out the right deals with the right unions. Let’s say there was a way for the CBC Television to actually legally distribute full episodes of the-closest-thing-they’ve-had-to-a-hit -in-years, via some type of RSS/Bittorrent system. Once an episode aired, it’d be released and seeded by a CBC computer. As more people downloaded it, the episode would be seeded by actual viewers of the program.

This would be a monumental step for the CBC.

Light years ahead of making selected CBC clips available on Google Video.

Light years ahead of weekly-updated content on a video site that no one uses.

It would mean that in this age of digital media, Canadians could actually house content they paid for. What a concept.

Canadians are smart. They know what they like. Give them full shows. Entire newscasts. Open up the archives. Let Canadians subscribe to whatever they want. Let them watch it on their computer, or burn it onto a DVD, or put it on their iPod. Wake up and realize what people in the real world want to watch, and how they want to watch it.

I know the legal stuff is a nightmare. I know there are no precedents for how to pay actors, or writers, or producers. So figure it out. Work out the deals. Make it happen.

Because otherwise, people are just going to steal your stuff. And no one will buy the DVD box sets.

Filed under: CBC, Podcasting, television


  1. Brian says:

    I'm not sure I agree with what you are saying. I'm not sure downloading TV shows is technically stealing. I pay for television service (DirecTV), but yet I choose to download TV shows at the same time. Does this make me a criminal? I do this for any number of reasons. To name a few: 1. High definition DVRs are expensive, buggy and otherwise cumbersome to operate (see Comcast's HD DVR and all the problems it has) 2. I have unlimited freedom to do with what I want with the shows once downloaded; specifically, I like to copy them to my laptop and watch them on the plane, on the train, on the bus to work, etc. If ABC/NBC/FOX/whomever wants to keep up, then they need to give people the freedom they deserve. After all, its not like you pay for "The Office" anyway. Where I live, its broadcast to me whether I want it or not. And what about the people in Australia who simply don't get shows like Lost or 24. Or rather they get them, but they are just years behind. There is actually some good intent behind downloading — not just sticking it to the TV show companies and producers. I for one value their work and if I honestly thought it was stealing I wouldn't do it.

  2. Tristan says:

    There may be problems with the CBC legally distributing a show like Little Mosque in this way. For example, Mosque is expected to be a big player (as far as Canadian dramatic programming goes, anyway) at MIPTV in Cannes next week. If the CBC was already distributing the entire season, commercial free, over the Internet, I'd imagine that would make it a much harder sale in the International market, no? Sure, you can already get it FOR FREE illegally, but somehow this doesn't phase these sorts of deals. However, I'd imagine that a legally distributed digital version of this show would have a negative impact on traditional broadcast sales.

    But then again, I can buy Huff on DVD over at HMV right now, even though Showcase hasn't even finished airing it yet, so what do I know?

  3. The Thrill says:


    Yes, Brian, you ARE stealing. Are you gonna stop now?

    Like it or not, broadcasters and the owners of copyright of a show have the right to determine how that show gets distributed. While, as a consumer, you may think it makes total sense for you to copy the digital version to other platforms and have it whenever you want, (that'd be sweet) the fact of the matter is that the broadcasters are under no obligation to cater to you – if they want to make your life difficult, they can. THAT'S THEIR RIGHT. (even if it means going out of business) If you want to stick it to them and get them to change their business models, DON'T WATCH. Make the sacrifice. But don't circumvent their shitty system with an illegal one and claim innocence. If you're getting something for free that you're theoretically supposed to be paying for YOU'RE STEALING.

    ABC/NBC/FOX/whomever need to keep up…with whom? The pirates? There does not exist a business model that allows broadcasters to "sell" their product in digital format for cheaper than f***ing free!!! That's what torrents offer. So unless someone somewhere can come up with one, it's time for downloaders to STFU, admit that what they're doing is theft (NOT protest – protest would be to boycott the product – do you REALLY need to watch The Office?) and face the illegally downloaded music.

    I would love a Porsche. I want a Porsche. I have two choices: save up and buy or do without. I can't go out and hotwire one from the showroom and claim I'm sticking it to the man and just doing with it what I want as a consumer – 'cause after all, they should make an affordable Porsche that doesn't require a stupid key. Either buy the cable service or do without.

    Seriously: even if you could download the show from the broadcaster's website for a mere $1-$2 a pop, would you? And for the few people who would, does that make it worth it to the broadcaster? I doubt it.

    Yes, the system sucks, yes there's DRM, yes there are RIAA goons – but downloading is just another form of the five finger discount. Period.

    (BTW – Democracy may be making inroads, but it's only because they can rip quality tv. If the apocalypse comes and broadcasters fall, and Democracy "wins", what exactly do you think the content is going to be like? Lost? House? ER? CSI? F**k all that sh*t, Silent Bob, it's gonna be like YouTube. Countless morons looking for their fifteen minutes by posting a flood of videos that cost nothing to produce – 'cause there's no money to be made. Do YOU want to have your tv replaced by YouTube videos? I certainly don't. In order to access House, Lost and my UFC fix, I'm willing to shell out for cable and to buy a VCR – yes, Dan, a VCR does the job! …Until I can afford a PVR.)

  4. Tristan says:

    Phil has spoken.

  1. […] has already been practically everywhere, but since it’s something I’ve been wishing for for a long time, I’ll mention that CBC TV is planning to release television programs via […]

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