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Hiro Media: Piping ads into free TV downloads

It's illegal to download most TV programmes at the moment, but a company called Hiro Media wants to help TV companies make money out of offering shows online

BitTorrent is huge. As an example, torrent download site Mininova gets more than 3 million visitors a day, generating a server-slaughtering 16.5 million daily page views. According to TorrentFreak, Mininova has delivered over 3 billion .torrent files so far, many of them US TV shows. The problem is, it's not exactly legal to download TV from the Internet -- but an Israeli company called Hiro Media hopes to change that.

The idea is simple: if you can't control the fact that your material gets online, why not try and make some money out of it? Net-savvy downloaders still get access to what they want -- TV shows they can watch on their PCs -- but you get paid. The Hiro system works using a 'codec' that you must install on any computer you want to play the files on. Changeable advertising is then inserted into the video, targeted to your geographical location and other demographic info, which is collected via the Hiro application.

Fans of privacy will be unimpressed, but we'd argue the amount of data collected is reasonably small and ensures you see relevant adverts, which if you have to watch them is better than seeing ads for hygiene products, holidays and other things irrelevant to our geek demographic.

The idea isn't perfect though -- for a start the Hiro codec only works on Windows 2000 and XP at the moment, so that means OS X and Linux users aren't going to be enjoying ad-supported content any time soon. The other problem is that these files won't play on anything except a PC, and even then, you'll need to use Windows Media Player -- the image above is what you get when you play the files in VLC. So if you want to put them on your Archos you're bang out of luck.

The main issue is that as long as there's broadcast TV, there will be an easily available source for TV 'pirates' to capture and release content ad-free. The advantage of this material is clearly that it's playable on a huge list of devices and isn't restricted to just one or two Microsoft operating systems.

Ignoring all the restrictions though, Hiro could be a valuable way for smaller content creators to generate revenue via their productions, and that can't be a bad thing. -Ian Morris