MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:
Fans of the science-fiction program "Doctor Who" have been finding what they wanted on the Internet, but not always legally. In the past, the BBC would broadcast the show in the U.K. first, so eager fans in other countries, including the U.S., would download pirated copies.
NPR's Neda Ulaby Says the BBC now has a new strategy to combat illegal downloading. When the new season starts Saturday, it's going to be broadcast the same day all over the world.
NEDA ULABY: Like a lot of Americans, 33-year-old Jefferson Eng started watching "Doctor Who" on Public Television when he was a little kid.
Mr. JEFFERSON ENG: I can remember watching episodes on local Channel 17.
ULABY: "Doctor Who" has come a long way from the rickety old, zippers-in-costumes 1970s version. Today's slick reboot is vastly more accessible. And if you're into science fiction, really fun.
Jefferson Eng's fondness for it brought him to a recent convention for pop culture fans, which is where I happened to meet him.
Do you ever download "Dr. Who" episodes?
Mr. ENG: Yes, I get it from the Internet fairies. But I do also support watching it on BBC America. So...
ULABY: The BBC used to favor British fans by broadcasting episodes in the U.K. first. Fans elsewhere used the Internet fairies to make "Doctor Who" one of the most illegally downloaded shows in the world. It's easily in the top 20, according to a website called Torrentfreak that follows what people download, often in violation of copyright.
(Soundbite of TV show, "Dr. Who")
Unidentified Man: The Doctor will see you now...
ULABY: New "Dr. Who" episodes get downloaded, according to Torrentfreak, up to 200,000 times the week they come out, mostly in the U.S. and Australia. That's because the BBC used to air "Dr. Who" episodes first in Britain. It did the same for a spinoff show, "Torchwood," about hostile aliens.
(Soundbite of TV show, "Torchwood")
Unidentified Man #2: We want ten percent of the children of this world...
ULABY: The wait for new episodes was unbearable for U.S. fans. Enter the Internet fairies.
Mr. PERRY SIMON (President, BBC America): You really do see huge spikes. We get it in "Top Gear," as well.
ULABY: BBC America calls Perry Simon its general manager. That's British talk for president.
Mr. SIMON: The more rabid the fan base, the bigger the piracy issue.
ULABY: Of course, Simon emphasizes that fans are also getting their fix legally. "Doctor Who" is the third most popular show on iTunes, after "Glee" and "Mad Men." But network research proves that BBC America has the unique problem of a disproportionately tech savvy audience.
Mr. SIMON: Percentage wise, BBC America is number one in Twitter users of all networks, and number two in blog writers.
ULABY: And they know how to access the shows they want through digital media.
Mr. SIMON: We consider this a high-class problem.
(Soundbite of laughter)
ULABY: With a pragmatic partial solution. "Doctor Who's" new season will premiere around the world all on the same day this coming weekend. It's a move designed to keep those bloody Internet fairies at bay.
Neda Ulaby, NPR News.
KELLY: You're listening to MORNING EDITION, from NPR News.
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