ABC shows Who dares wins in battle against television piracy

Digital first ... <i>Doctor Who.</i>
Digital first ... Doctor Who.

THE cashed-up commercial TV sector is the loudest voice in the room when it comes to complaining about piracy. To the government. To internet service providers. And to their audience. But on the weekend it was the humble national broadcaster, our dear old Aunty, that took the fight to the pirates and won.

The ABC's decision to launch the new series of Doctor Who via its iView online platform a week before airing it on TV has paid dividends.

Almost 80,000 diehard Doctor Who fans pounced and watched the episode, titled ''Asylum of the Daleks'', on Sunday - a record for the iView site, clocking the most plays by one program in a 24-hour period since its launch.

That number probably represents only 10 to 15 per cent of its total potential TV audience, but the move is significant because in effect it closes the window on online piracy.

Research shows the period in which content (films, music and TV) is vulnerable to piracy is between when it launches internationally and when it launches in local markets.

By making Doctor Who available to its viewers immediately after it airs in Britain, the ABC is in effect circumventing any inclination fans might have to download it from an unlicensed source.

The episode was significant because it featured the return of the show's iconic villains - the Daleks - and because it featured several different types of Dalek, from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.

Because of that, the episode's debut was preceded by a massive global marketing campaign. Most commercial networks now ''fast track'' key overseas programs because of pressure from viewers and the fear of losing audiences to online downloading, but they tackle it with varying levels of enthusiasm and success.

One of the biggest hurdles in getting TV network programmers to back strategies such as these is the long-held belief that any support for online discourages TV use.

But that position is increasingly looking archaic.

It is also fuelled by a philosophy of subtraction - that is, any viewer not watching via a traditional TV set is a set of eyeballs considered lost.

Most blue-chip international broadcasters, such as the BBC and American free-to-air networks NBC, ABC, CBS and Fox, are increasingly adopting a philosophy of addition - that is, audiences viewing programs on any platform are considered part of a cumulative total.

The ABC's 75,900 Doctor Who ''views'' on iView will not realistically damage the episode's broadcast potential.

This story ABC shows Who dares wins in battle against television piracy first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.