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

Well, 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 s_ome 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.