August 23, 2011 2:15pm PT by Eriq Gardner
Fox Responds to Reports of 'Piracy Surge' Following Hulu Policy Change
Last week, Fox Television went ahead with a plan to delay the online availability of its TV shows until eight days after original airing for everybody except those who subscribe to Hulu Plus or who are customers of TV distributors making special deals with Fox. The move signalled that the network intends to hold onto retransmission fees from cable and satellite companies at the risk of alienating those who have grown accustomed to watch TV content online soon after it airs.
In rolling out the new program in the dog days of August, the network picked a time that would discourage its viewers from showing up at News Corp. headquarters with pitchforks, but nevertheless, the change brought strong reactions, including reports of a triple-digit percentage "surge" in piracy.
According to TorrentFreak, the two Fox shows that weren't in re-runs last week showed tremendous activity on BitTorrent. Gordon Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen saw a 114 percent increase in downloads on the file-sharing site from the previous week. Downloads of MasterChef increased even more at 189 percent, leading the website to conclude that "the Hulu delay is not in the best interests of TV viewers" and question "whether driving people to ‘pirated’ content is a wise choice."
We decided to ask Fox Television about the reports. Scott Grogin, senior vp for communications at the network, was kind enough to give us a thoughtful response explaining what some critics of the eight-day delay might be missing. Here's what he had to say in full:
"The TorrentFreak blog post is a little over the top. The story indicates that we 'took this drastic step in the hope of getting more people to watch shows live and thus make more revenue.' Nothing could be further from the truth.
Authenticating viewers is not about making sure they only watch live...in fact, quite the opposite—we support a 'TV Everywhere' proposition and are working with our distribution partners to benefit our businesses. It's about receiving fair value so we can continue to produce this expensive and high quality programming. We are pursuing a strategy where the 90+ million households who pay to watch our programming via cable/satellite/telco will ultimately receive maximum benefit. They can watch live, via DVR, on VOD, online, or through one of the various tablet apps that allow in-home viewing.
We are actively in negotiations with all cable/satellite/telco providers regarding authentication of their customers. We hope to announce several more agreements before the start of the new television season in mid-September."
Grogin is referring, among other things, to Fox's deal with Dish Network, whereby authenticated Dish customers can go to Fox.com, Hulu.com, Dishonline.com, and log in with their subscriber usernames and passwords, and view new episodes of Fox shows the next day.
We'll let others debate whether Fox's move to push cable and satellite distributors to pay for the online allowances of its subscribers will ultimately lead to more and better online access. Who will face the heat for the lack of instant online availability of TV shows -- Fox or its broadcast distributors -- is an unsettled issue for the coming months.
One thing not really addressed, however, in Grogin's initial response is the topic of TV viewers taking matters into their own hands. Was the piracy surge in line with Fox's expectations for what was about to happen? And does the network have any plans to mitigate it?
Fox is keeping the answers close to vest at the moment. Grogin says he doesn't want to get lost in "piracy claims that may or may not be accurate regarding two shows" and adds, "We take content theft very seriously will do everything we can to ensure our content is well protected."