“Lost” Faceoff: iTunes versus Bittorrent

Recently I’ve been thinking about how online marketing applies to video, in particular to how television shows and movies are delivered over the Internet. Of course, when delving into this area, you have to look at how video is being distributed illegally — the dark world of file sharing. This world is often a harbinger for what is going to work and not work as the Internet becomes the primary distribution vehicle for movies and television shows.
My experiences watching the popular television show Lost maps nicely to some of the new ways of watching video. Here is how it played out over the last few seasons:

  • Season 1. I watched the first season on DVDs from NetFlix. This is my favorite way to watch television since you get multiple episodes at once, the quality is great, and it is convenient.
  • Season 2. I subscribed to iTunes and the week’s latest episodes downloaded right to my desktop. It was automatic and very convenient. I paid thirty some dollars for the season and it worked out to be $2 an episode. Unlike most people, I don’t have a television to watch this on and, even if I did, I would have to tape/tivo it because I’m often still putting my kids to sleep when it comes on.
  • Season 3. This year I went to a neighbor’s house for the first two episodes. But, for the other day, I wasn’t able to do so I had to get the episode some other way.

With my test, I downloaded the episode through iTunes and through Bittorrent. Here are my thoughts on the pros and cons of each:

  • iTunes. Cost me $2. Extremely easy since billing already setup through iTunes. Good quality. Took 25 minutes to download.
  • Bittorrent. Cost me nothing. More involved but getting easier with rise of rss bittorrent services. Good quality but some risk of it being not quite right. Took 3 hours to download.

In the end, iTunes was better. $2 is a small price to pay for a better experience and piece of mind that the content was obtained and the relevant parties are being fairly compensated. However, iTunes works best in this case because the content is readily available. This isn’t always the case. Take one look at the movie selection from iTunes of Netflix’s on-demand offering and you’ll see what I mean. This is what makes downloading illegal content tempting for so many. Although it is still more challenging and not quite as easy as Napster used to be, it is getting easier and only a few steps away from being easy enough for regular people.
Thus the challenge — the longer that the movie houses struggle over the right solution for distributing video online the more time that illicit services have to rise and improve. Take a quick peek at my searches for Lost on YouTorrent and tvRSS and you’ll see what I mean. It is getting more and more approachable.
As for me, next week I’ll probably be back to watching to Lost at my neighbor’s house with a bowl of popcorn but perhaps by the time season 4 rolls around I’ll buy a real TV and hook it up to a new fangled Apple TV or Netflix appliance. We’ll see!