The New York Times writes: “Homemade cable boxes. Episodes swiped off the Web. TV is becoming a do-it-yourself affair, and the industry is terrified.”
The members of the MythTV community, who now do not have to pay monthly fees to rent set-top boxes or digital video recorders, have plenty of more mischievous company in trying to outwit the television industry. Millions of viewers are now watching illegal copies of television programs – even full seasons copied from popular DVD’s – that are flitting about the Internet, thanks to other new programs that allow users to upload and download the large files quickly. And entrepreneurial souls are busily concocting even newer applications, including one that searches the Internet for illegal copies of any television shows you may desire and automatically downloads them to your computer.
These high-tech tricks address desires that have become standard in an age of instant media gratification: the desire to watch what you want, when and how you want it. And they’re turning television – traditionally beamed into homes at the convenience of the broadcast and cable networks – into something more flexible, highly portable and commercial free.
Not surprisingly, the repercussions – particularly the rapidly growing number of shows available for the plucking online – terrify industry executives, who remember only too well what Napster and other file-sharing programs did to the music industry. They fret that if unchecked, rampant trading of files will threaten the riches of the relatively new and surprisingly lucrative television DVD business. It could endanger sales of television shows to international markets and into syndication. And it could further endanger what for the past 50 years has been television’s economic linchpin: the 30-second commercial.