Writers’ Strike: Boon or Doom for Torrent Sites?

TV execs aren’t the only ones feeling the effects of the writers’ strike. If repeats and reality programming end up ruling the airwaves in the coming months, a plethora of web sites devoted to hit shows like 24 or Lost could also be affected, notably torrent sites and other P2P communities that draw a sizable audience of TV show fans from all around the world looking for their latest fix. The question is: How will they be affected, exactly? For better, or for worse?

eztv-24.jpgWill the file-swapping pace on sites like The Pirate Bay, Mininova or EZTV die down due to a lack of new releases? Or will the opposite happen, with people flocking to P2P communities to rediscover old favorites and take their shot at some foreign goodies? We talked to Eric Garland of the media measurement company BigChampagne to find out.

Take a look at any torrent site during your regular TV season, and you’ll see that episodes of TV shows consistently top the trading charts. Some statistics show that almost 50 percent of the people who use these sites are downloading TV torrents, while others estimate that more than 20 percent of all bittorrent traffic is caused by TV show downloads.

These numbers, however, are primarily driven by a small number of titles: Heroes, House, Dexter and Lost, for example. Reruns of Law & Order or the latest Tila Tequila episode, meanwhile, don’t cause nearly as much of a downloading frenzy.

But BigChampagne’s Garland thinks that torrent sites might be buzzing even without new releases from TV studios. “A lot of British and European TV does really well on torrent sites,” he reminded us. People might just go and download the original UK version of The Office if the U.S. version doesn’t make it back to NBC any time soon. And, interestingly enough, downloaders might be in the same position as TV execs, forced to explore the back catalog of their favorite torrent site.

This could actually give P2P a big boost: Current shows tend to get downloaded episode by episode, whereas past seasons usually get swapped as complete bundles. “One thing we can expect to see is a shift toward season and series torrents,” said Garland. Bigger files obviously mean more data moving through the tubes. His prognosis for a long writers’ strike? “BitTorrent traffic will be way up.”

This also will help the overall catalog of torrent sites. “The tail should get longer and availability of older titles should improve,” predicted Garland. In other words: If the writers’ strike continues, even the P2P world will be dominated by lots and lots of reruns.

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