They're not lying: CBC to release TV show for download, free, legal, and via BitTorrent

canada’s next great prime ministerCourtesy of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, a phrase I never thought I’d read:

“The show will be completely free (and legal) for you to download, share & burn to your heart’s desire.”

CBC announced that it will make the March 23rd episode of the show “Canada’s Next Great Prime Minister” available the following day as a “high quality, DRM-free” download using BitTorrent technology. CBC also will distribute a version formatted for iPods with video.

“Nope, we’re not lying,” CBC said in its release.

CBC is the first North American broadcaster to freely release one of its programs without DRM using BitTorrent. “Canada’s Next Great Prime Minister” will be available for download to anyone in the world.

cbc showMichael Geist, a copyright specialist and law professor at the University of Ottawa, praised CBC in a post on his blog. “This development is important not only because it shows that Canada’s public broadcaster is increasingly willing to experiment with alternative forms of distribution, but also because it may help crystallize the net neutrality issue in Canada,” he said.

“Canada’s Next Great Prime Minister” is an annual competition in which young adults propose ways to improve the country in hopes of winning 50,000 Canadian dollars. The show attracted more than one million viewers in 2007, considered to be successful for a Canadian broadcast.

nrkTessa Sproule, the manager in charge of the show’s digital outreach, read a post by Cory Doctorow on the BoingBoing blog that inspired her into action. Through the source Eirikso, Doctorow noted that NRK, Norway’s state broadcaster, had successfully experimented with releasing the popular TV show “Nordkalotten 365” DRM-free through BitTorrent, saving on bandwidth cost.

Guinevere Orvis, one of the interactive producers for “Canada’s Next Great Prime Minister”, told CNET that it was CBC’s desire to make the show as accessible to as many Canadians as possible, in a format they want. “I think DRM is dead, even if a lot of broadcasters don’t realize it,” she said.

(Orvis has written for last100 on the TV industry using piracy as a measure of success.)

In the U.S., networks are not even close to providing a show for download, DRM-free, via BitTorrent technology, which many still consider “illegal.”

NBC and Fox make some of their shows available for free via low-quality streams, but their joint effort Hulu service is not available outside the the United States.

Comedy Central has made its entire archive of “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” available online via low-quality, free streams. But the only way for U.S. consumers to download high-quality TV shows, legally, is via iTunes, which charges $1.99 for a DRM-locked episode.

“It is safe to say that BitTorrent is slowly replacing TiVo,” writes Ernesto for “Approximately 50 percent of all BitTorrent downloads are TV shows, and some episodes of popular shows such as “Lost,” “Prison Break,” and “Heroes,” get up to 10 million downloads per episode, spread over thousands of sites.

“It is good to see that broadcasters slowly start to realize that they can benefit from sharing their content via BitTorrent.”

CBC obviously thinks it’s a good idea, and so does its viewers. At the end of its announcement, CBC asks, “Do you think this is a good idea/bad idea? Would you like to see more shows distributed this way?”

Overwhelmingly, the responses have been “wonderful news!”, “brilliant”, “excellent idea”, and “I’m proud to be Canadian!”


last100 is edited by Steve O'Hear. Aside from founding last100, Steve is co-founder and CEO of Beepl and a freelance journalist who has written for numerous publications, including TechCrunch, The Guardian, ZDNet, ReadWriteWeb and Macworld, and also wrote and directed the Silicon Valley documentary, In Search of the Valley. See his full profile and disclosure of his industry affiliations.

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