I’m not at all shy about saying that I download 100% of my television viewing without exception. Sure, I pay for FiOS and all of the various and sundry networks get their little cut of my monthly fees but I don’t do it for that, I do it because it’s part of my Internet package. If I could cut it, I would and not feel bad about it at all.
Yet there is a certain group of people who, upon hearing that I download TV shows, get up in arms because I’m somehow not doing my bit for metaphorical king and country. The fact is though that any show that I watch is broadcast for free over the open airwaves, at least for those who bother with the open airwaves anymore, I see no legal or ethical obligation why I shouldn’t just get them any way I want because nobody was ever directly charged for them in the first place. And no, I don’t watch anything from any pay channel like HBO or Showtime so that argument goes right out the window.
Okay, I know that advertising is the lifeblood of television, networks depend on advertisers paying for ads during a particular program to keep that program on the air, but let’s be honest, the agreement is between advertisers and broadcasters, there is no agreement between broadcasters and viewers. What is being paid for is the potential for eyes on their advertisements, not a guarantee of eyes. I personally signed no legally-binding agreement to watch these commercials, nor to buy products from the advertisers. I am free to walk away from the TV during the commercials, I can change the channel, I can simply ignore what is on the screen at that time or, in the age of DVRs, simply skip through the commercials altogether.
Oh no, what if, because nobody watches the commercials, all of the TV shows go off the air? Then they do. This appeal to consequences is a logical fallacy for a reason. I’m not worried about that though, the shows are too much of a cash cow for producers to walk away. Because I support the free market though, I think it’s up to the producers to find the most effective way to make money and frankly, I think the day of the commercial has come and gone. Producers may go other directions, such as a pure subscription model, where people subscribe, for a few cents or a few dollars a month, to specific shows that they then get to watch. Personally, I think they ought to go back to a sponsorship system, where a particular show is sponsored by a company and that company gets to put their product into the series via product placement. Everyone on CSI will drive a Ford and drink Coke, everyone on a different show will drive a Chevy and drink Pepsi. They can still have people hawking the products but, like with modern commercials, those can be and will be edited out by the viewer.
So I don’t feel remotely bad about downloading every single episode I review on TV Thursday without commercials and no attempt to guilt me into it will succeed. TV advertising doesn’t work on me and never has, in fact, no advertising works on me. I think that’s mostly because advertising is aimed at the lowest common denominator and I don’t react well to stupid. It isn’t my job to actively pay the bills of the television networks, it’s their job to find a way to make money and if they’re too lazy to adapt to the new reality that the Internet provides, preferring to cling to an increasingly outdated system, that’s their problem, not mine. This is an issue that has faced virtually every industry in the face of new technology. The music industry fought tooth and nail against online music downloads and had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into the light. Today, music downloads account for a majority of music purchases worldwide. Book publishers hated e-book sites like Amazon because it took the control out of their hands. While there is still a transition underway, it’s likely that traditional book publishers will be reduced to a tiny minority within a couple of years because they’re typically unwilling to deal with the freedom that the Internet provides. Television networks are in good company in their refusal to adapt to the new reality, but time and technology march on regardless of the reluctant.
I’ll keep downloading all of my TV shows and keep not paying any attention to commercials because I don’t have to and I don’t care if it’s legal or not. The networks either find a way to make money that doesn’t impinge on my ability to get shows quickly and easily or they go away and someone else with a bit more technical knowhow and forward-looking philosophy will come along and do it. Either way, I win.