Web piracy hits foreign broadcasters

Nothing seems to be safe from entertainment content thieves who now are causing even the international TV sector some major headaches.

Broadcasters are increasingly irked that expensive Hollywood TV shows are being downloaded off the Internet and exploited by pirates long before their scheduled broadcast in their territories.

Piracy has forced the film sector to close the window between domestic US and international debuts. Now the same thing is happening on the TV front. The debut in Australia of the CBS drama Jericho within hours of its US bow a couple of weeks ago likely will pave the way for more "day-and-date" launches in foreign territories.

In fact, British broadcaster Sky One recently refined its deal with News Corp. sibling 20th Century Fox Television to air the next season of 24 within a week of its US broadcast. Research has identified 24 as the single most illegally viewed TV program on the Internet in the UK.

"It's so heavily serialized that it's addictive," says David Smyth, Sky One's head of acquisitions. "When you are finished watching one episode, the only thing you want to do is watch another."

Added Fox executive Marion Edwards, "The feeling is that if you can tell somebody you can watch it legally within a week, rather than choose to watch it illegally, that people will respond."

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