CBC To Release Program DRM-Free Via BitTorrent

Sources indicate that the CBC is set to become the first major North American broadcaster to freely release one of its programs without DRM using BitTorrent.  This Sunday, CBC will air Canada Next Great Prime Minister.  The following day, it plans to freely release a high-resolution version via peer-to-peer networks without any DRM restrictions.  This development is important not only because it shows that Canada's public broadcaster is increasingly willing to experiment with alternative forms of distribution, but also because it may help crystallize the net neutrality issue in Canada. 

The CBC's mandate, as provided in the Broadcasting Act, requires it to make its programming "available throughout Canada by the most appropriate and efficient means."  Using BitTorrent allows the CBC to meet its statutory mandate, yet with ISPs such as Rogers engaging in non-transparent traffic shaping, millions of Canadians may be unable to fully access programming funded by tax dollars.  If the CBC experiment is successful, look for more broadcasters to do the same and for the CRTC to face mounting pressure to address net neutrality concerns.


  1. Darryl Moore says:

    This is excellent news. This even out does the BBC which has made most of its programs available over the net. Albeit, DRM encumbered and only to UK residence.

    The BBC, CBC, TVO, PBS, and other public broadcasters are well positioned to take advantage of these new technologies (P2P in particular), in a way that oddly enough puts the for-profit networks at a bit of a disadvantage.

    If this is successful, (it should be fairly difficult to mess up) I expect to see the for-profit networks start seriously looking for ways to change their business model so that they can take advantage of this technology too.

  2. Dwight Williams says:

    Good news!
    As regards the traffic-shaping issue, you raise an interesting question for the various ISPs’ legal departments: can interfering with the CBC in the performance of its statutory duties to Canadians constitute an offence, and if so, under which statute(s)?

  3. James Bissette says:

    Well I guess this means we should be seeing jPod back on the air considering more people downloaded it than watched it on the CBC.

  4. Edward Palonek says:

    Step in the right direction, but I can’t wait till they release the next hockey game using bit torrent. [ link ]

  5. Ivar Vasara says:

    I was a software developer on the CBC’s new media program ZeD. While I could go on at great length about the myriad technical innovations associated with the now forgotten program, I figure it’s best to point out that we distributed at least one episode via bitorrent (in addition to streaming and traditional televison).

    [ link ]

  6. Tessa Sproule says:

    Executive in Charge of Digtial Programmi
    Hi Ivar,

    Thanks for clarifying – in the brave new world it’s always difficult to lay a stake in the sand and claim it’s yours. I didn’t know about ZeD’s foray into torrent distribution, and that’s my oversight.

    Ivar, I don’t know where you’ve ended up post-ZeD, but I’d love to hear about it – please send me a note at

    All-in-all, CBC has been testing the torrent waters for some time now, though the torrent of Canada’s Next Great Prime Minister will mark the first time that we’ve provided a torrent of a primetime program in a DRM-free format.

    Tessa Sproule
    Executive in Charge of Digital Programming
    CBC Television – Factual Entertainment

  7. Kevin McArthur says:

    @Dwight Williams
    Traffic shaping has not been authorized by the CRTC, and its been a longstanding debate in Canadian circles whether or not this interference violates existing non-interference statutes in the telecommunications act. Specifically

    Section 36:

    “except where the Commission approves otherwise, a Canadian carrier shall not control the content or influence the meaning or purpose of telecommunications carried by it for the public.”

    Section 27 (2):

    “No Canadian carrier shall, in relation to the provision of a telecommunications service or the charging of a rate for it, unjustly discriminate or give an undue or unreasonable preference toward any person, including itself, or subject any person to an undue or unreasonable disadvantage.”

    It should be a very clear case of both should ISP traffic shaping adversely affect the CBC from transmitting its programming over the internet while the carrier cable and iptv networks work preferentially.

    Unfortunately, the CRTC has not enforced these provision in the past much to the dismay of many Net Neutrality supporters so it remains to be seen just how much the carriers will continue to get away with and for how much longer the CRTC will sit on their hands.

  8. Personally, I’d prefer to see the Rick Mercer Report available through bittorrent, but I guess they gotta start somewhere.

    I also wouldn’t mind if they fixed the videos in their new-fangled multmedia archive, which are clearly not in flash, and don’t seem to play right…

    But that’s beside the point. 😉

  9. Canadian carriers
    Regarding traffic shaping and Canadian carriers, Darryl Moore brought up a good point. So I started looking through the telecommunications act and then it struck me: many ISPs come from different beginnings. When starting a radio station, for example, you have to go through a number of hoops, not the least of which is (to simplify) have a good read of the relevant acts and sign a bunch of forms. However, operating as an ISP (correct me if I’m wrong) only requires a regular business licence. Maybe the large providers just pretend they don’t know anything about it, or perhaps they are never approached by the CITC regarding their internet business, but I’m pretty sure that many of the small ISPs haven’t even heard of them.

  10. Jaye Sunsurn says:

    What shows would be ideal for BT
    You would think that jPod would be ideal for a BT experiment because in a lot of ways it was just as popular outside of Canada as inside (possibly more) and the only way most of them saw it was through fan captured BT Downloads, but being a regular series as opposed to a special like CNGPM its harder to get the green light on such things. I will be watching CNGPM, probably as its shown even if I am almost about to give up on CBC programming once again with the cancellation of stuff like jPod. However making more and more legit torrents out there especially like CNGPM, does put pressure to make sure that net neutrality standards if not actual policies and laws do get pushed through, as BT is just plain efficient for any sort of distribution, sometimes staying alive for months or even a year or more after the original seeder has stopped, as long as the popularity of the torrent keeps it alive.

  11. CBC
    I give many credits to CBC for trying this, I know it will be successful in its implementation. It will however boil down to the type of programming released via bit torrent. I for one would love to get some NHL games out there. Even if its a day after the game I would still download it to watch it as I travel often.
    [ link ]
    Thank you.

  12. This is great news that the CBC is doing this.

    I can understand some would like to see the NHL or even Golf put out there as well.

    For me I cannot see why once its done all its air time is it really a need to keep it locked in the can so to speak.

    After a week it should be put out there

    But its a beginning in the right direction

    My 2 Watts

  13. Interactive Producer
    We’ve made the official announcement this morning:

    [ link ]

    Please keep your suggestions coming, we are listening.

  14. Mekki MacAulay says:

    This is spectacular news. The CBC needs to be publicly lauded for this move. Not only does it make their content more accessible, more efficiently, at lower cost, but also does it encourage Canadian content to be shared virally amongst Canadian consumers who helped pay to create it.

    Very encouraging.

  15. matt roberts says:

    “Using BitTorrent allows the CBC to meet its statutory mandate, yet with ISPs such as Rogers engaging in non-transparent traffic shaping, millions of Canadians may be unable to fully access programming funded by tax dollars.”

    How exactly are Canadians not going to get “access” due to shaping policies? They are going to get all be it slower than if there were no shaping policies or possibly faster depending on what hour of what day they download the content. Great news on the DRM front.

  16. This is fantastic! We cancelled our cable back in 2006, and I haven’t been able to see anything CBC does since then (no over air reception). I’ll eagerly try this out.

  17. Seems to me we need two extra words in the statement: \”… millions of Canadians may be unable to fully AND EQUITABLY access programming funded by tax dollars.\” That might help get around the faster/slower download issue.

  18. Great step
    Good job CBC!

    I haven’t had a TV or cable in 10 years now. We watch some kids programming (usually from the UK) and movies on a big-screen computer by buying and ripping DVDs, but we don’t have any access to TV and to be honest, we don’t miss it. The occasional show seems interesting from afar, but our family is not willing to spend more than 30 minutes in front of a screen in the evenings. If you want to compete for that eyeball time, keep going in this direction. Make it easy for me to see what’s available with quick previews and written blurbs, keep the back catalog of episodes available, make a variety of programming available (all would be nice), make it DRM-free *ding*, don’t require registration *ding?*, publish RSS feeds for the content (useful in Miro), use BitTorrent to distribute *ding*, and whenever possible, have the torrent available at the same time as the show airs so that when someone talks about it on CBC radio and says what time it’s on, I can actually use that info.

    Will there be adds in the digital copy? Can those adds be removed after a period of time (like when the season gets archived) so that the shows are available without adds at a later date? I understand that someone has to pay for the shows and that TV is pricier than radio… but I wonder if there might be a really cheap and easy way to pay for things by having an awesome site where I can pay $0.50 to grab an add-free free torrent or subscribe to all CBC TV content with no adds for $50/year or something. I’d be very curious to know what the current add revenue per viewer per episode is. The BBC fee model is pretty compelling for people who don’t like adds.

    Anyway… my favourite part about this post is that it reveals that you are reading Michael’s blog. 🙂

    P.S. Seen this? [ link ]

  19. Great, but what about the file format? Will it be in Windows Media, locking out Mac OS X and Linux users? Will it be in the old, buggy DivX format (trying playing that reliably under anything other than Windows with a pack of 100 CODECs installed)?

    I, for one, hope that they will use H.264 video with AAC audio inside a plain, regular .mp4 container file.

  20. For those asking about format:

    [ link ]

    “The show will completely free (and legal) for you to download, share & burn to your heart’s desire. We’ll also be distributing a version you can put in your iPod.”

    So my guess is h.264, in different file/resolution sizes.

    Very sneaky. By announcing it’s fulfilling it’s mandate, the CBC is putting the pressure on the ISPs to not pull a Comcast.

    Although my guess is that Rogers will just put CBC torrent servers on their “don’t interfere” list… to avoid the issue altogether.

    Still, it’s nice to have a non-Linux/non-gaming usage for bitTorrent. Trying to explain that (mostly) only free stuff, pirated content, and WoW patches come over bitTorrent usually gets me a “who cares” response to filtering. Granted I’m likely to get the same for CBC stuff. 😉

    But at least it’s slowly becoming more mainstream.

  21. Yes, the iPod version will have to be either MPEG-4/AAC or H.264/AAC, however it will also probably be in 320×240. What about the other version(s)? Will they also use MPEG-4/AAC or H.264/AAC for the higher resolution files?

    I don’t want to watch 320×240 content on my 36″ TV (via AppleTV).

  22. suggestions
    To the interactive producer,

    How about putting pressure on ISPs like Rogers and Sympatico to stop shaping traffic? Or make an official complaint at the crtc based on what Kevin McArthur mentionned in his comment?

    Anyway, good job on this, this is definitely the way to go.

  23. I have often said (to no one in particular) that if major networks offered downloads of their programs with ads, that I’d happily sit through them. For me, ads or no ads isn’t the issue when downloading shows; it’s the convenience of being able to watch it on my schedule, on the device of my choosing. I’m definitely encouraged by the CBC’s move here – I hadn’t planned on watching CNGPM, but I will now.

  24. Keith MacDonald says:

    This is definitely, absolutely, positively the right move in the right direction from the MotherCorp.

  25. myspace – savagespaceinsk
    I truely believe this is a step in the right direction. With a fee on our media to apparently reimburse the artists *does this even happen?*, and now the choice to download shows legitimately FROM the source, it shows that possibly the corporations ARE listening a BIT. Now this isnt saying they are going to bend over backwards or anything of that nature but they are listening to how the trends are going and what the general population is swaying, esp in the days when torrents are such a heated debate. I can see the yanks not being too fond of this move whatsoever whereas they are in the business of controlling and allowing/not allowing the general population the ‘choice’ of what to see/hear and what not to see/hear. Bravo CBC, and whoever else is responsible for this decision, let Canada continue to lead the way!

  26. Uhmmm… okay, what’s the catch?

    You know when something looks this good, there’s _always_ a hidden catch somewhere.

    I trust media conglomerates about as far as I could…. uhmmm… nope, I could probably even throw ’em further than I trust ’em.

  27. Dwight Williams says:

    My thanks to Kevin…
    I was wondering what parts of which statutes were relevant here. Much appreciated!

  28. Ivar Vasara says:

    no NHL online via CBC
    Although I no longer work for the CBC and things might have changed, it’s highly unlikely that there will be NHL games broadcast or distributed online by the CBC. When we doing experiments with streaming various internal CBC video feeds while prepping for initiatives, the primary concern was that we NOT broadcast any programme that we didn’t have online distribution rights for – with a dire warning about broadcasting hockey.

  29. We don’t have cable, and have no plans to get it again unless it is entirely on-demand type service. We want to watch whatever we feel like, when we feel like. We don’t want to have to cater to the broadcasters demands, and compared to internet flexibility cable just seems so primitive.

    Putting the shows out on internet will be fabulous. Its fine to leave in the commercials, even though someone will edit it without them. We would watch with them, since it is only fair. We would also donate to shows that we particularly like, as long as it is safe to do so (encrypted web pages). We like being part of the process, we like feeling we have impact on future episodes.

    Internet lets us do that quickly, and flexibly. Hopefully more CBC shows will do this so that more people in the world can watch them.

    I hope this experiment is hugely successful!

  30. DRM is a bad bad thing.

  31. @Ivar Vasara

    Things have changed a bit. I regulary watch NHL games streamed via, as well as The National. It takes only a little doing to get it working smoothly on Linux, but VLC handles it rather well.

    I\’m hoping that more and more programs (CBC and non) are presented either this way or as downloads in the near future, but they are starting to move that way.

  32. @Ivar Vasara

    I was a huge fan of ZeD TV! And I believe the series was the first from CBC to distribute one of its episodes with Bittorrent. ZeD, CBC Radio 3 Home Delivery [], and CBC Radio 3 [] impressed me so much, that I knew I wanted to get into the field of New Media.

    Anyway, I really do hope they will not trash this initiative like all the others ie CBC on Demand. Perhaps this Bittorrent distribution can be made into the similar formula of podcasts + RSS which will turn into video + RSS? That’s what I’m hoping for.

  33. Concerned Canadian says:

    This is awesome. I hope other channels follow suit.

  34. just say no to jpod
    Good lord, NO! Please, no more jPod!
    I couldn’t even get through the first episode… seriously. A weed-growing, gangsta-killing mom and a dad that likes to share his sex life with his son? Get real.
    I’m all for the imaginary, but it has to be somewhat believable! Even fantasy stories are more believable.

  35. However, I do applaud CBC’s experiment. I downloaded the episode just to show my support of the idea.

    I do have some questions though… does it really fill the CBC’s mandate? If someone lives remote enough to not get a CBC station, are they really going to have high speed internet available to them to download the content via this ‘alternative’ channel? Probably not.

    Plus, I’m not convinced it is entirely in the CBC’s best interest to just ‘give it away.’ Sure… let people view it for free, but you can use a free unencumbered streaming system. The people who want to rip it from the streaming system will do so, and those who just want to watch it, will watch it. The BBC’s big mistake was limiting it to UK residents only. Using the streaming method you can add a few commercials and develop ways to increase funding for the alternative distribution.

  36. RANDOMSTUD says:

    Im glad to see the move to the realm of web distribution throught bit torrent.
    To bad its only for one episode of what was a decent program, i suppose but it is a good way to get the youth intrested in something made by the CBC.
    Altough it will never make up for them canceling JPOD just because of the conservatives
    decided they have the right take away tax credits for anything that has content they don’t approve. Tho i do hope they start putting Rick mercer report on Bittorrent since the clips system on cbc site is crap.

    Problem is ultimatly if canada cant make good orginal shows without government interference there will be nothing to put on bittorrent. If we can’t create good content like the trailer park boys what need is there for a distribution system that can scale to any level.

    from Rick mercers blog
    “From the Desk of Stephen Harper
    Posted At : March 4, 2008 2:53 PM

    My Fellow Conservatives,

    As you have no doubt heard we are now fixing the criteria for tax credits for Canadian movies and TV shows. From now on we can simply deny the tax credits granted to TV and Film productions if we find them obscene or in any way personally offensive to our way of life. Make no mistake about it; this is a very large stick we now wield against the entertainment industry. If we deny them the tax credit after they have made their projects and spent their money they could face bankruptcy. I see the future my friends and it’s starring Anne of Green Gables.

    As our good friend Charles McVety stated on page one of the Globe and Mail recently, it is a victory that can be directly attributed to Charles and his organization the Canada Family Action Coalition. It is through their hard work and lobbying of the Justice Minister Vic Toews, the Minister of public safety Stockwell Day and numerous PMO officials we can now ensure that like-minded conservatives have the final say on what kind of TV shows and movies get made in Canada.

    This is just the beginning. Other industries are next. If the Ontario auto sector wants any help from this government Cabinet will also have a final say on any new automobile designs. Environment Minister John Baird’s assistant Pierre Poilievre will be our front man on that issue. He works hard, is well qualified and has the entire hot wheels collection going back to 1978. He also recently got his learner’s permit so I think we are in good hands. He tells me he has some good ideas for the new Ford Mustang – something to do with lasers.

    On the publishing front books will have to wait until we get a majority. But I think we all agree if the publishing industry gets any incentives from tax payers then it only makes sense that an elected representative decide what books get published. Like you I look forward to the day when a wise man like Jim Flaherty can decide what is suitable reading material for all Canadians. Take that Margaret Atwood. Time for some mystery novels I think!

    For the time being though we are busy with cleaning up show business. But as the saying goes, let no good deed go unpunished. Now on top of running the country we have to watch all these god forsaken Canadian movies. Who knew there were so many? I certainly didn’t.

    Today we screened a new movie by someone called the Trailer Park Boys. Not only can we not grant these people a tax credit but we had no choice but to call the police and initiate an instant review of some channel called Showcase. Poor Stockwell had a seizure during the opening credits and began to hyperventilate into a brown paper bag.

    My friends, bankrupting a company is not a decision I make lightly; luckily it is a company in Atlantic Canada so it is okay. But this Trailer Park business just reinforces my belief that the region is mired in a culture of defeat. As I said to Chuck Strahl our Minister of Indian Affairs, instead of glorifying drugs and violence they should simply make a nice show like the Forest Rangers. Chuck agreed offering the kind of insight that makes him one of my most trusted Ministers “You got that right boss, that Bubbles is no Indian Joe Two Rivers.”

    Luckily Helena Geurgis had a good idea that could save the production. “Why not add a talking car?” she said, “like Herbie the Love Bug.” Helena loves Herbie. When she was sworn in as Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign affairs she proudly informed cabinet that she was up to the job and that in fact Herbie goes to Monte Carlo was her favourite movie of like all time.

    We were about to pencil in the talking car note but as luck would have it John Baird is also a Love Bug aficionado and he reported that Herbie did not in fact speak in sentences but communicated by honking his horn, blinking his lights and slamming his hood up and down – a communication technique John admires greatly.

    This horrified Stockwell day. Throwing his panic bag aside he shouted that we could not in good conscience give any tax credits to anything with a talking car; that such behavior in a Volkswagen clearly indicated that Herbie was possessed by Satan. He told us the only thing that would fix that Love bug was a run through a carwash of holy water. This lead Peter Mackay to inform us that when he was in university, a “love bug” meant that it hurt when you peed. McKay goes too far sometimes. He tortures Stockwell any chance he can get. Those two are always at it; if it’s not arguing over how best to proceed in the Middle East it’s who looks better in fatigues.

    Anyway, we decided that the Trailer Park movie could be saved but only if all the scenes involving drugs, sex, guns and premarital sex were removed. It’s going to be one hell of a short film. It comes in at two and a half minutes now. The only thing left are shots of Bubbles and his kittens. Like Bubbles I love kittens! I wish more people would make movies that are about kittens or puppies or rabbits. In fact the character I most relate to in the world cinema is Lenny in “Of Mice and Men.” He loved his rabbit so much, he just didn’t know his own strength. I can relate to that let me tell you. Every time I pick of one of the 64 kittens now using 24 Sussex as a litter box Laureen says “watch it Lenny…. remember what happened last time.”

    The next movie we had to watch was introduced by Justice Minister Vic Toews. He was livid. He reported that it was the latest sequel to the most successful film franchise in Quebec. In hushed and serious tones he told us that the movie was a lurid and violent tale about lesbian boys. He was very concerned that the gay agenda of the entertainment industry has moved past simply turning our sons gay and they are now concentrating on turning them into lesbians. It was quite a bombshell you can imagine. Lesbian boys? It boggles the mind what passes for entertainment in Quebec. You could have heard a pin drop – a silence only interrupted when Jason Kenney let out a long audible sigh and distinctly said to nobody in particular “I wish I were a lesbian”. That boy has to stop thinking out loud. I sent him out of the room with a withering stare and a curt “shouldn’t you be out “out reaching” to an ethnic voter? Is there not a Chinese man or a member of the Tamil community you could be bothering?”

    Vic wanted an immediate vote on the movie without screening it. As he said, the title was all he needed to know that some tough justice was required to drive this Quebec company out of business tout de suite! (uh oh Vic’s working on his French). Luckily Vic was shouted down by Gary Lunn who was sitting next to him. Gary jumped up on his chair stared straight up at Vic and said “I want to see the lesbians!” I am relieved to report that Vic was a bit confused and the movie was not about lesbian boys; it was just called Les Boys. It’s not about lesbians at all but hockey players. This will get the tax credit but we must change the title and remove the swearing and the sex.

    Next up was, can you believe it, yet another Trudeau biopic from the CBC entitled Trudeau: The Bi-Curious years. I always suspected the man was a bisexual, rumour has it he had sex with Barbara Streisand in the pool at 24. (note to self: have Dimitris call public works and have the pool drained and repainted). This got the tax credit and the CBC will no doubt air it seventeen times over the next six months. Oh well it’s their funeral.

    The pleasant surprise of the evening was a movie that was penned by our very own Government House Leader Peter Van Loan written under his pseudonym Debbie Vanderlear. It is a modern retelling of My Fair Lady about a handsome young man at university who mentors young girls in conservative ideology. The man (a cross between Brad Pitt and Barney Rubble) dreams of finding a girl and grooming her to become the Prime Minister of Canada. Unfortunately after numerous attempts he gives them all the creeps so he has to become Prime Minister himself. I told him they would get the tax credit as long as they cut the last part where he becomes Prime Minister. That’s just too far fetched. My God it’s not science fiction.

    Other highlights of the meeting included killing a David Cronenberg movie, killing a Paul Gross movie and killing a Sarah Polley movie (they have all said bad things about me lately, the sooner they move on the better). Also we put the kibosh on some kids movie about carbon dating dinosaurs (too unbelievable).

    Our next meeting of the Conservative film club is in one week. Until then, God Bless Canada and save the aisle seat for me!

    Yours Truly,

    Stephen Harper

  37. none
    Hey BCCD, RDS (French TSN) is already offering Canadiens games online, live. about 30$ for the rest of the regular season, and the full playoffs however long Montreal stays in. or 2.99 a game.

  38. seem like a lot of work
    Seems like a lot of effort just to watch TV. downloading files, ISP shaping issues, torent clients, media player updates, codec updates, hard drive space issues, file format differences – all just to watch an over compressed video of a show. I cant believe this is the way of the future. Especially if you’re not technical.

    I dunno, maybe I’m missing something, maybe Im just getting old, but for me TV for me has always been a passive relatively simple thing – not something I have to work at, or interact with on some deeper level.

    No thanks, I’ll stick with my antenna. It’s free. No fees, no effort, press a button and watch (and in HD here in the GTA). Or just record to my DVDR if I dont feel like watching now.

  39. telecommunication
    1)WORLDWIDE client base in the cell phone sector. Tremendous opportunity to get in the stock now. Check out how big the opportunity is at

  40. good !
    This is awesome. I hope other channels follow suit.