On an snowy vista, a 30-something British man in a suit, straw cowboy hat and floral lei exits a blue phone box. He then starts jabbering to a strange-looking alien about deflowering Queen Elizabeth I, as well as his potentially impending death. And then there’s a glimpse of an alien city, a prayer circle and a close-up of a man laughing evilly. Are you intrigued? Excited? Unless you’re a fervent sci-fi fan, probably none of the above.
This clip from the upcoming Doctor Who episode The End of Time, Part 1, released last Friday on BBCamerica.com, makes no effort to engage new viewers. However, it’s not for the casual fan that said clip was released. Rather, its release is just the latest example of BBC Worldwide’s recent commitment towards engaging Doctor Who‘s global fan base — and, presumably, cutting down on piracy.
See, the End of Time clip had already premiered earlier that Friday on British television as part of the BBC’s Children in Need charity special, an annual pledge drive that uses special content from various BBC shows to encourage donations. Participating BBC shows and stars contribute original sketches, live performances, or, like Doctor Who this year and last year, special clips from future episodes — it’s a nice way to spread the BBC brand, hype upcoming special events, and do something good for kids while they’re at it. But because of the BBC’s unique nature as a public broadcaster, this content is typically kept offline and/or geoblocked: All of the clips I’ve linked to in this paragraph are pirated versions put online by fans with access.
So there’s something encouraging about the fact that in this case, BBC America is self-distributing the End of Time clip and making it embeddable for a global audience. According to BBC Worldwide America COO Chris Carr via email, “We know that BBC America has a tech-savvy audience, especially Doctor Who fans, so releasing video clips online is a great way to reach this group.” The implication of this statement, of course, is that said tech-savvy audience will know where to get the content they desire should it not be provided legally.
Carr also noted that “Our policy is to air programs as close to the UK broadcast whenever possible,” but in the past British TV fans have waited for months, not hours, to legally watch new episodes of their favorite shows on BBCA. For example, BBCA is currently airing episodes from season 12 of the popular car series Top Gear, but Top Gear is currently on season 14 in the UK. However, Doctor Who — The End of Time promises to draw a large audience, as the two-parter marks the final episodes of current star David Tennant. So the fact that BBCA has taken one step further to indulge American audiences by airing End of Time, Part 1 just one day after its UK premiere is possibly the best deterrent towards piracy the network could make.
However, this isn’t a company-wide policy, as the BBC mothership currently has a ridiculous sort of geoblocking in place on its official YouTube account, which prevents American users from clicking on the channel page, but does allow them to watch almost arbitrarily selected clips. One of those clips viewable by American audiences is NOT the BBC’s official upload of the End of Time clip, but unauthorized versions of the End of Time clip are on YouTube anyway, individually accumulating tens of thousands of views. You might just chalk that up to the fact that fans of the time-traveling titular Doctor would consider such authority-shucking behavior a fitting tribute to their favorite hero. But it’s really just the same story as always — when the technology allows it, people will watch what they want, where they want, when they want.