Friday, December 14, 2012

Watching Downton Abbey

Unless you have been living under a rock for the last couple of year you no doubt have heard of Downton Abbey.  Think of it as an updated "Upstairs Downstairs" except set in the Yorkshire country side instead of the Belgravia neighborhood in London. Produced by the BBC in England it is being re-broadcast here in the States on PBS. As is pretty typical the episodes are first broadcast in the UK on iTV then re-broadcast 4 months later on PBS. My wife and her girl friends have become totally addicted to the series. So, of course, we had to go out and buy the DVDs.

Now comes the interesting bit. Season one and two are available here in the States but the third season has yet to be broadcast, it's scheduled to start January 6th. However the third season has finished it broadcast run in the UK, the DVDs of the third season are already for sale on Amazon's UK site ( At the same time a number of people in the UK has captured all episodes and put them up on their website. The BBC is having great fun trying to get these posts taken down but by now they are discovering a basic rule of the internet; "Once the genie is out of the bottle, he does not go back in." that plus the observation that once you try and suppress a posting many people will start to mirror what you are trying to take down. My wife, who is not technical by any stretch of the imagination, managed to find all eight episodes of the third season using Google, download them and pass them out to her girl friends.  Does this mean that she will not watch the third season when it is broadcast here in the states? Are you kidding? She and her girl friends have already re-arranged their schedules so they can get together and watch the new episodes. And when the DVDs are being offered for sale they will be the first in line. Remember, these are mature, intelligent women who have already seen the third season episodes.

This brings up the whole DVD issue. Almost all DVD are encoded for play in a certain region. North America is region 1 and Europe is region 2. That means that most DVD players sold in North America will only play DVDs sold in North America. A DVD from Europe will not play on a North American DVD player. Plus TV, and by extension DVDs, in North America are encoded with the NTSC scanning scheme while most of Europe is PAL encoded. (It's really complicated, look it up on Wikipedia). This is all fine and groovy but one can very easily find on-line DVD players that will play DVDs from any region and use any scanning encoding scheme and they are not any more expensive that any other DVD player, Generally in the $75.00 to $100.00 range.

The upshot of all this is with the right DVD player I can order DVDs from any where in the world and watch them on my home player. I have a friend who is mad for Chinese soap operas, most of which are not available here in the states, and are encoded for region 6 and PAL/SECAM scanning. With his $100.00 DVD player it does not even slow him down. So I ask you, what is the point of this 4 month wait for Downton Abbey to be broadcast here in the states? Those who wish to watch the third season could have easily seen each episode within in a day of the UK broadcast.  If I had the right DVD player, I'll be buying a new DVD player after the first of the year, I could have the third season sitting on my shelf.

It boils down to this simple fact;the whole region encoding and split broadcast schedule is an archaic holdover from a pre-Internet world. Most people want the content and are willing to pay for it but are uninterested in waiting months for the content to be released in their region / country.  Its time for the broadcast industry to join us in the 21th century.

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