Impatient TV viewers turn to BitTorrent

Online forums reveal keen interest in file-sharing software among Australians aching for latest episodes of "Desperate Housewives."

Some Australians are turning to file-sharing networks for new episodes of their favorite American television shows.

According to a new report, the popularity in Australia of one peer-to-peer application--BitTorrent--is driven in part by local television networks that have adopted a strategy of being slow to air current episodes of popular TV shows.

Alex Malik, a former general counsel for the Australian Recording Industry Association, generated the report. Malik believes that by delaying the broadcast of these programs, Australian TV programmers have increased the domestic demand for the shows. "As a result, impatient viewers have increasingly turned to BitTorrent to download their favorite shows," he said.

Online forums dedicated to discussions about popular TV shows, Malik said, revealed that one in three of the conversations touches on where and how to pirate TV programs on the Web. Although it is hard to quantify the number of people illegally downloading shows through BitTorrent, Malik said, a "substantial" number of people are doing it.

"It's difficult to put a number on it because not a lot of people talk about (online pirating) especially since it's illegal. It's similar to illegal music file sharing...Not a lot of people admit to it, but there is a substantial amount happening," he said.

Malik's research showed that Australians have to wait an average of eight months to see first-run episodes of popular programs from overseas. For instance, it takes an average of four months to watch the latest episodes of top-rated shows like "Lost" and "Desperate Housewives."

Malik said local networks also delayed the telecast of top programs during Australia's summer so as "not to waste successful programs" during a period of low viewership.

"These delays provide a window of opportunity for viewers to upload TV programs after their American broadcast date, thereby making them available to viewers outside of the U.S., and viewers within the U.S. who may have missed the program."

To download these shows, all consumers require is a broadband connection and BitTorrent software. While download quality is variable depending on its source, BitTorrent users have found the quality to be satisfactory, the report said.

"While there are no accurate Australian BitTorrent usage figures, anecdotal evidence and reports from online forums suggest that Australians are downloading TV programs in large quantities," Malik added.

A previous survey released by Web monitoring company Envisional found Australia to be the second largest downloader of online pirated TV programs in the world (15.6 percent), second to the United Kingdom (18.5 percent) and ahead of the United States (7.3 percent).

The report said that increased bandwidth, technological advances and a high demand of U.S.-based TV shows are some of the reasons for the boom in online piracy. The report also said that around 70 percent of the piracy occurs through BitTorrent.

Recently, there has been an effort to clamp down on the use of BitTorrent technology to aid copyright infringement.

The Australian recording industry has targeted Perth-based Internet service provider Swiftel, which allegedly owns and operates computer infrastructure that hosts Web pages using BitTorrent file-sharing software. In March, the Australia-based Music Industry Piracy Investigations Unit took Swiftel to court. The hearing is set to resume Thursday.

Kristyn Maslog-Levis of ZDNet Australia reported from Sydney.

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