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TV's Napster Moment Has Arrived

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Not long ago, I wrote that Hollywood has played "keepaway" with viewers when it comes to streaming some of its most popular television shows. Well, I take that back. Hollywood actually tolerates all sorts of streaming by sites not operated by or affiliated with the major networks, accessible through Rovi's (Nasdaq: ROVI  ) SideReel guide.

SideReel does steer users toward TV downloads and streams from network sites and other approved providers. However, the site also tracks less legitimate sources for entertainment. One SideReel page offers more than 50 links to streaming sites hosting episodes of The Big Bang Theory, none of which are operated by the show's network home, CBS (NYSE: CBS  ) , or its production company, Time Warner (NYSE: TWX  ) .

While I can't stream The Big Bang Theory from's (Nasdaq: AMZN  ) Instant Video, Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) iTunes, or Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX  ) , SideReel has more than enough links to fulfill my craving for geektastic comedy. The sub rosa sites it catalogs seem like the video equivalent of Napster in its heyday of illegal music downloads. Perhaps that's why Hollywood insiders cited by GigaOm describe the sort of sites SideReel aggregates as pirates. SideReel's links to them must create friction with studio lawyers.

As a fan, I'm thrilled by what SideReel offers. As an investor, I can't see how Rovi gets away with actively publishing pirate links for much longer. But since this has been going on for years, I find it equally mystifying that CBS, Walt Disney (NYSE: DIS  ) , and NBC Universal haven't inked more streaming deals. Can't these studios see the demand? Should investors use digital ineptitude as an excuse to dump these and other Hollywood stocks?

Kick off the discussion using the comments box below. You can also add all of these companies to your watchlist and get our latest analysis as soon as it's published.

The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Walt Disney, Netflix, Apple, and Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying puts in Netflix. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended creating a bull call spread position in Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Tim Beyers is a member of the Motley Fool Rule Breakers stock-picking team. He owned shares of Apple, Time Warner, and Walt Disney at the time of publication. Check out Tim's portfolio holdings and Foolish writings, or connect with him on Twitter as @milehighfool. You can also get his insights delivered directly to your RSS reader. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Read/Post Comments (6) | Recommend This Article (1)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On June 27, 2011, at 11:19 AM, gslusher wrote:

    "As an investor, I can't see how Rovi gets away with actively publishing pirate links for much longer."

    Perhaps the TV industry is just waiting to get enough hard evidence to file not only a huge lawsuit against Rovi but to swear out criminal complaints, as well. (Remember what happened to Napster.) The pirate site operators may get similar treatment. As a user, you might want to consider if Rovi keeps records of what you download or stream and where it came from, as you might get caught up in the sweep, as well.

  • Report this Comment On June 27, 2011, at 11:26 AM, TMFMileHigh wrote:


    Good point. I'm much more interested in paying a fair fee for streaming my favorite content than supporting a pirate site.

    So far, the only streaming I've done at these sites was in prep for this article. The rest of my "Big Bang" viewing is confined to DVD discs I own or which are from Netflix. (Disc 3 of season two on tap for tonight.)

    FWIW and Foolish best,

    Tim (TMFMileHigh and @milehighfool on Twitter)

  • Report this Comment On June 27, 2011, at 6:36 PM, Dijeridoo wrote:

    @TMFMileHigh: I wonder what exactly that price point will be.

    The accessibility and reasonable fees of Netflix and other DVD/video streaming services have presumptively lowered the amount of illegal movie downloads, but it took awhile for that to even be a possible conclusion.

    I don't see that SideReel will be a viable site in the future (for reasons mentioned). Hulu, VOD from cable companies, and other streaming media services will soon take up the slack....but like with movies, it may be some time before the price point meets equilibrium with consumer demand. Until then, many of these sites (including Rovi's) will continue to flourish.

  • Report this Comment On June 28, 2011, at 12:45 AM, racchole wrote:

    I used to go to baseball games when the players got paid realistic amounts of money, and tickets were affordable.

    I used to go to the movies when actors had talent and stories weren't picked from a dime-a-dozen hat. Now, consumers have to deal with washed-up, talentless actors being overpaid for movies that should never have been made. I'll pay my $50 a year and get unlimited access to pirate sites any day. You get what you deserve is the way I see it. Media used to be an art, now its a medium for advertising. I'll pay for the stuff that deserves money, which has dropped to about 5% of all material.

  • Report this Comment On June 28, 2011, at 11:34 AM, DukeTG wrote:

    Big Bang Theory is a great example of how studios are forcing people to go to legally gray areas to find content. If you want to watch BBT at a time other than when it airs, you practically either have to TiVo it, or break the law. Last time I tried CBS's website they had five random episodes from all the past seasons, none of which was the last aired episode.

    I've always said I'll pay a reasonable fee to have content available at any time. Heck, I pay for HBO and I still downloaded Game of Thrones off bittorrent just so I could watch it when and where I wanted to.

  • Report this Comment On July 01, 2011, at 3:31 PM, sunlhshine06 wrote:

    TV Napster?

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