Last night I thought I'd arrived at the future of broadcasting.
US network Cinemax (part of HBO) had put the first episode of Banshee on YouTube, in full and free (Banshee being the edgy new crime series starring NZ's Anthony Starr – of Outrageous Fortune fame – which has received some good notices from North American critics).
It seemed like a very progressive move. People worldwide could check it out as a taster, and Cinemax pocket a little YouTube ad revenue in the process.
I duly tweeted the link (originally spotted by @DylanReeve), and the social media set raved.
But the raves turned to rage this morning as Cinemax YouTube channel threw up the message "The uploader has not made this video available in your country. Sorry about that" (although it can still be found; see end of story).
Twitter immediately roiled with speculation that Sky TV, which holds local broadcast rights and is screening Banshee on its Soho channel, was behind the takedown.
And it turns out that were there was smoke, there was a little bit of fire.
"Cinemax put it up and took it down. It shouldn’t have been available in NZ," Sky TV corporate communications head Kirsty Way told NBR ONLINE.
And was that with a bit of prompting from Sky TV? NBR inquired.
"Yes, we pointed out the error. I’m sure they would have realised before long," Ms Way replied.
Earned its dues ... but the times are a-changin'
Sky TV argues that it is not a Telecom-style company that inherited its monopoly. It lost around $1 billion during its hard years establishing its place in the market, and CEO John Fellet argues it has every right to recoup its programming costs.
Would a free first episode not help the rest of the (paid) series? The broadcaster has yet to respond on that point. But I'm sure there will be an element of fear that a free taster could send some to the Torrents, or grey market commercial avenues.
[UPDATE: Ms Way told NBR: "I’m sure there have been some good effects through the availability of the first episode but as most successful businesses would agree, if you buy something you want what you paid for. If what we purchased is to be given away in our market we should be the ones to make that call, not the seller. We do preview Soho shows to Sky customers on iSky].
But the Banshee brouhaha is yet another signal that modern viewers want more pick-and-choose flexibility.
And also how hard it is to stamp something out on the intrawebs. For as I type, the first episode of Banshee is still available full and free to Kiwis through Cinemax' website here.
Another potential fly in Sky TV's ointment: the Commerce Commission is continuing its (now extended) investigation into "whether Sky’s agreements for the acquisition of content harm competition by denying actual or potential rivals access to a critical mass of quality content."
It's an investigation that may gain some frisson from Quickflix' near-death experience before Christmas.
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