How the Tour de France encourages internet piracy

I’m an occasional cycling fan. By which I mean, I love the Tour de France when it’s on the TV, pay a bit of attention to the Olympics and World Championships if British cyclists are doing well and otherwise ride my exercise bike now and again.

So having watched British cyclist Mark Cavendish storm to victory in the final stage in Paris, one of the most prestigious stages for anyone to win, I’ve been wanting to watch it again. Just how come slightly before the final corner his main rivals were right on his heels and then suddenly round the corner and – bingo – they were nowhere to be seen?

It looked like his lead-out man picked a very clever route, cutting across a rival team and getting to the final corner first, so forcing them to slow down and triggering a tailback in which other cyclists were even more delayed.

I want to watch it again, hit stop, rewind, slow forward – and if there was an expert commentary available from a retired sprinter? Heck, I’d even happily pay something for it.

But what can I find? The ITV Player was never very good for watching again, what with its low quality pictures and sound frequently several minutes out of synch (until the advert breaks when as if by magic they always got back in to synch). I can’t fast forward past the ad breaks of the 1 hour final show in order to get to the bit I want. It’s coverage is only around for another three weeks anyway and the commentary doesn’t help shed much light on what happened and why.

So I want more. The official website? Looks nice, lots of still photographs, but doesn’t do the job. YouTube? Ah, lots of search results. Low quality. Hit and miss. Many, if not all, illegal uploads.

But they’re there now and in to the future. They give me varying coverage. They don’t require me to stop and start around adverts to watch the bit I want.

In other words – due to the lack of availability of high quality content that does what I want, I’ve most likely ended up watching illegal uploads. (I’m not actually 100% sure given the different TV channels they were from, but certainly if the ones I watched weren’t illegal, there are plenty of similar clips there being watched which are.)

I’d have been happy to consume adverts – just not ones that stop me getting to the bit of the show I want. I’d even have been willing to pay something for a valuable extra, such as a commentary from a previous Tour sprinting star. Not to mention the benefit of being able to go straight to high quality content without having to play lucky dip to see which YouTube clip has a decent quality picture. And push at me a plug for “Order your highlights DVD now from Amazon” and there’s a fair chance I’d have spent even more money.

This isn’t just a personal story though. It’s emblematic of a wider phenomenon. Making legal content easily available, even at a price, reduces online piracy. Not just by a bit, but dramatically. That’s why, as I blogged previously, illegal music downloading amongst 14-18 year olds has declined sharply.

Cut piracy, bring in more money and make the public happier? Industries threatened by online piracy need not panic themselves into demanding draconian legal remedies which catch the innocent and the naïve whilst also wrecking the industry’s public reputation. There is a better way.

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