Canada’s next great prime-time television experience – throttled by Bell

Yesterday morning I read another note about legacy phone and cable companies throttling competing P2P traffic that mentioned the fact that CBC made the show Canada’s Next Great Prime Minister as a DRM-free file via BitTorrent. I decided to download the torrent files (Yes, both encoded versions — I also wanted to become a seed), and later in the evening I pointed my Neuros OSD to the high quality version and watched it with Rina (my wife).

It was a great show, and Rina (a high-school teacher) spoke about how the kids at school should see it as a form of motivation speech — of just how well a young person can debate the issues.

This is a show that I have to admit I would not have watched except for the fact that CBC decided to do the DRM-free bittorrent experiment. We didn’t watch the show live or set the OSD to record it. I might not even have noticed the show was created except for the distribution experiement.

I was further excited about the possibilities that this could suggest for the future. If I could get more programming in this format, I would easily toss my legacy cable subscription. The problem is that networks have been frightened of distributing content via efficient P2P mechanisms, and even more frightened of allowing us to make our own hardware and software choices (IE: if the file was infected by DRM I could not have watched the show). There are many CBC shows that we love to watch.

The fact I would so easily give up traditional broadcasting services is also well understood by the incumbent broadcast undertakings (In my part of Ontario that is Bell, Rogers and StarChoice), and why there is a conflict of interest when these same companies (Bell and Rogers) have a duopoly on the last-mile connections to our home on top of which we get Internet services. CBC is reporting how Bell is trrottling connectivity not just of its own customers, but of competitive wholesale providers as well. I am a customer of Teksavvy and Storm Internet, and have never considered Bell or Rogers directly given their conflict of interest will always lead to policy problems. I am of the firm belief that the congestion that they are trying to “solve” through throttling was in fact manufactured by these providers in order to justify throttling (IE: the cause and effect are backwards from what Bell and Rogers claim). The technology used for the “last mile” connections are quite slow, and the only legitimate congestion should be on this slow connection, not the extremely cheap fiber lines used to interconnect the rest of North America. While I can understand congestion on the underground cables to other countries, this is not the congestion that Bell and Rogers are alleging exist (are manufacturing) within their own internal networks.

I was surprised that there were no advertisements in the file from CBC. The closest thing to advertisements was a mention of the sponsors of the show: Fulbright, Magna, Dominion institute, and Compas. The envelope with the final winner was brought out by Belinda Stronach, executive vice-chair of Magna international. Frank Stronach, Belinda’s father and chairman of Magna, was the creator of the program. Mr. Stronach had a section of the show where he spoke as well.

The show ended with the text “This DRM-free bittorrent is brought to you by CBC”.

I’m looking forward to the next DRM-free bittorrent of high quality shows like this one. I don’t mind paying for them, and I don’t mind there being advertisements in them, but I won’t watch (for free or otherwise) if they are infected with DRM.

Update: Read Guinevere Orvis on the inside story on how CBC gave the go-ahead, and my comment on CBC’s Spark show BLOG about format issues.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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