January 29, 2011

The Sky Atlantic dilemma

I'm probably not alone with my frustrations here, so let me outline my dilemma and see what you think. It's not a "shall I get Sky TV?" dilemma as that particular avenue isn't open to me. This is different.
I pay Virgin Media and, indirectly, Sky, a considerable amount of money for TV services every year. I am prepared to do this as I want access to a wide range of movies and TV shows and enjoy live sports coverage as a high definition experience.
I am also a terrible hypocrite when it comes to copyright piracy: I abhor the sellers of pirated movie DVDs who haunt the local supermarket carparks on a Saturday afternoon and would no sooner copy a pirate CD than I would shoplift one from HMV. But I think nothing of loaning my CDs and DVDs to friends, or recording a DVD from broadcast TV and giving it to a friend to watch. So I'm a hypocrite. Who isn't?
But I now find myself going a step further: downloading US TV series is something I am reluctantly doing (Boardwalk Empire) and considering further (with Treme, the forthcoming Game of Thrones, series of Mad Men and whatever else Sky secures on its exclusive Sky Atlantic) because the content providers offer me no legal alternative. Boardwalk is not on iTunes or disc, nor is there an HBO online service I can subscribe to in the UK, nor is Sky offering Atlantic to other platforms at an affordable price.
So if I want to see these series there is no alternative, and the temptation is too great, and I'm even prepared to watch a sub-HD quality recording to see the TV I want to see (a 500mb hour ain't HD, no matter what the source and label says).
I would much, much rather watch is legitimately but I have no choice but to turn to the darker side of BT downloads, and, until the programme makers and broadcast companies wake up and realise that their profits can only be short-term whilst they seemingly inadvertently encourage such activity, I'm not alone I'm sure.


Afront said...

A very candid post, and I share your dilemma. Of course, all of the shows you mention will become available as DVD/Bluray boxsets in the future for legal enjoyment, but by then all the fun you get from discussing online and reading about each episode as it airs is gone.

Tom Tennyson said...

When Sky pulled Sky1 from Virgin a few years ago I found the only way I could keep up with Lost was to go online. I'm completely opposed to piracy as well, but in that case there was nothing else I could do. My conscience was cleared a few months later when I bought the DVD boxset, but I can certainly understand why a lot more people would be going down this route.

Harkaway said...

I join you in everything you said. Unfortunately, we are also the heirs of a legacy of business models which privilege national boundaries in a global age. Many of us might have been happy to have paid for an Itunes download of Boardwalk Empire or Mad Men when they first appeared, but the entertainment industry operates like a cartel in many ways. Markets are segmented for their benefit, not for the customer's. Now consumers can more easily obtain cultural creations which used to be protected by their physicality. Digitization has its perils, as the music industry has already discovered, broadcast & film has experienced for a while, and publishing is now confronting. As consumers this is not a new challenge. Most of us had multiregional players although playing anything on them was illegal. We may have bought books from the US Amazon site ignoring publishing agreements. It isn't a big step anymore to the Bittorrent world.

In terms of Sky Atlantic,it seems like they and Virgin can't come to terms, but I blame Sky more than Virgin. (I already think they haven't lived up to the last deal.) Like Nialli I cannot get Sky due to my living situation, but I probably wouldn't in any case. As a business they seem focused on their bottom line and provide very little new programming. Over the years, they've generally allowed other broadcasters to introduce shows then grabbed them to try to get more subscribers. Luckily, this time, except for Boardwalk Empire and, perhaps eventually, Mad Men, most of the programming is initially repeats of shows I've already seen (like The Sopranos or Six Feet Under), so I'll bide my time and hope a deal will be struck down the line. I have enough stuff to watch already, so I won't be staring at a blank screen.

Oblong said...

You are all just making excuses for stealing. Loaning DVDs to friends is not in any way illegal - downloading from BT or similar is.

I'm not saying don't do it - but all this justification to make yourself feel better about it is nonsense. You're not stealing bread from a shop to feed a starving child.

Sky are being unreasonable? Yes. But that's tough. Buy Sky or steal the programme - but don't say 'you had no choice'. You have the third choice of watching something else.

The job's not what it was* said...

I occasionally avail myself of torrents of shows and until recently I justified that on the basis that I was effectively timeshifting as I had all the channels that these shows would be shown on eventually. I have never downloaded a movie or any music without paying for it, and as far as I can tell i'm in the minority. Now with Sky Atlantic I won't have that self regulated justification. I don't know if its going to make any difference, perhaps this is the slippery slope towards robbing old ladies of their pension. Only time will tell.

Nialli said...

@oblong: and if you can't have Sky?
I will pay - show me how. I've searched high and low for legit DVDs or downloads, there aren't any.
What I'm saying though is that whilst some do this as a last resort, others do it now as a daily routine, and if the TV companies do not wake up and make their content legitimately available, they will go the way of the record companies and outlets.

paulselby1 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
FlashD said...

First of all your blog is brilliant I subscribed to the RSS feed last year and haven't looked back.

I share with your dilemma, and have had the same though but I made a promise to my wife that I would never download so I'm stuck. The way I look at it is hopefully they (i.e. Sky and Virgin Media) sort something out soon and when they do Sky do what they did when we got Sky1 back; show a catch-up weekend of all the shows. Anyway fingers crossed.

Oblong said...


Let me first say I think the blog you do here is excellent and I appreciate the work you put in to it.

My point was not to say that downloading programs from BT makes you a bad person. It's just that it is what it is. If you want to download stuff from BT then do it; but don't try and justify it from the viewpoint of you are some oppressed person that has no choice.

You are unable to get Sky through a sattelite - that's unfortunate. It doesn't then give you the right to steal its content however unfair the situation is.

My point is if you want to download stuff from BT - fair enough; but trying to relieve your guilt by saying you have no choice is totally unacceptable.

Take responsibility for your actions.

Adi said...

Like other posters I would generally position myself as anti-piracy and would never steal content that I can fairly pay for - content producers have to make their £££ after all, or the content we love won't carry on being made.

However I have sometimes found myself in a position where Sky's approach to nabbing programmes for their channels and then not making these channels available to other content providers at a fair price means that I have resorted to downloading shows off the 'net.

Yes, I *could* wait for the DVD to come out and buy that, but by then any plot twists have been ruined, and you end up hopelessly behind friends who also watch these shows.

Threre's no excuse for pirating movies or music which are freely available to buy though....

Erich said...

Oblong sayz:
it is nonsense. You're not stealing bread from a shop to feed a starving child.

No, he's not. In fact, the only nonsense here is the comparison to stealing bread, which doesn't apply here at all. Unless the owner of this imaginary bread shop had somehow decided that certain people were not allowed to buy his bread, even if they were willing to pay for it. Never mind the fact that the bread would have to exist in infinite supply, since Sky's shows aren't physical products they could ever run out of or lose any money on when they're downloaded. Nialli's position is clearly different from people who have the option to pay for the shows they instead choose to download.

Oblong sayz:
... trying to relieve your guilt by saying you have no choice is totally unacceptable.

You probably missed the point. I hardly think Nialli is looking to the internet for absolution, but there's a perfectly valid point to be made about the effects of Sky's business practices. That said, I very much doubt shows like Mad Men and Boardwalk Empire are much of a factor, but on a broader scale, these sort of practices could arguably end up hurting Sky.

Nialli said...

btw, Treme is released on DVD and Blu-Ray in the US on March 29th. There are no release dates for Boardwalk Empire or Blue Bloods

David said...

The Grass is always greener on THE OTHER SIDE. If one channel makes your life so unfulfilled - you need to look at your life.

Habanero said...

In the past what has annoyed me about Sky, was when they have taken content from other channels. BBC originally showed 24, and Channel 4 showed Lost. Now it seems they are doing the same with Mad Men. They've even kind of done it to themselves by taking Sky Sports News off of Freeview.

As for the other series mentioned, I dont really care. I've never seen them, and they just aren't important enough to make me want to become a Sky customer.

Chris said...

The only show that I really want to see is Game of Thrones, being an avid fan of George R R Martin for the last 15 years. I had my fingers crossed most of last year that it was going to be broadcast in the UK and then all of December with my fingers crossed that Sky Atlantic was going to be available on Virgin. There's no doubt that I am going to buy the box sets (special edition if they exist and maybe even the Blurays even though I don't have a Bluray player), but come April I will be downloading it along with thousands of others that have been disenfranchised by Skys exclusivity.

Erich said...

Here's more on Sky Atlantic and piracy


Nialli said...

Thanks. Typical of Digital Spy: take the story and don't give the source URL. The story's from The Guardian http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2011/feb/06/sky-atlantic-tv-piracy-internet and isn't particularly well written. The only reason I can see for the conclusions it draws is that the Sky Atlantic hype will make people aware of new US series they may have missed. It doesn't mention that HBO/Sky resticts content from those prepared to pay but not stick a dish on their property.