With Fox Off Hulu, Would-Be Viewers Turn to Illegal Downloads

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After Fox decided to keep its programs offline for eight days, downloads of both Hell's Kitchen and MasterChef surged on BitTorrent

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Last week, Fox made good on an earlier threat to lock its programming behind an Internet paywall. Those who do not subscribe to Hulu or the Dish Network are now unable to view Fox's television shows online for the first eight days after they air. When the paywall went into effect, ABC announced that it, too, would be pulling its content from streaming sites.

When Fox erected its paywall, downloads surged on BitTorrent.

There are plenty of alternatives to Fox and ABC on the Web, I wrote last week -- some of them significantly better. Viewers who want to go without cable bills (or viewers without television sets, or viewers who just prefer to watch TV on their laptops, or viewers who...) will find a way around the paywall that works for them. Well, it turns out that many have just decided to jump the wall -- they love So You Think You Can Dance *that* much. Like the hordes of people who rush the fences at outdoor festivals, viewers who prefer their television on the Web are now getting it illegally.

When Fox erected its paywall, downloads of both Hell's Kitchen and MasterChef surged on BitTorrent, according to TorrentFreak, a blog that monitors file sharing online. "During the first 5 days [of the paywall], the number of downloads from the U.S. for the latest episode of Hell's Kitchen increased by 114% compared to the previous 3 episodes. For MasterChef the upturn was even higher with 189% more downloads from the U.S."

The jump in demand for MasterChef could, in part, be explained by the fact that this latest episode was the season finale, TorrentFreak notes. But that's not the whole story. The blog dug deep into the comments on torrent sites to see why people were turning to them more this week than last: "You so rock and allowed me to keep my promise to my son," one user wrote. "I promised if he cleaned for one hour he could watch Hell's Kitchen with me. He was excited and then disappointed that he couldn't watch it on Hulu or Fox.com."

What's more, Hulu's rise over the past couple of years "drastically decreased TV-show piracy in the U.S.," according to TorrentFreak. "Viewers are happy with the legal streaming option it offers them, but not all studios see that as a success." They complain about the 30-second advertisements which, on Hulu, are often clustered together in groups of three, but they continue watching. Now, we could start seeing illegal downloading climb across the board. With those ads, networks squeezed some revenue from online viewers and some is a lot more than the nothing they get when a potential customer turns to BitTorrent.

Image: The Pirate Bay.

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Nicholas Jackson is a former associate editor at The Atlantic.

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