Can you steal something that is free?

Television executives are concerned about rampant file sharing of television programs like Desperate Housewives and West Wing. But these shows are freely available on broadcast television, commercials included. For years people have recorded them. Now PVRs and TiVo allow customers to record and timeshift them, deciding when they want to watch a show, rather than allowing the networks to control their time. “Must see tv” is now “When I feel like it tv”. What concerns the executives now is the sharing of these programs through the internet.

If something is free though, then how can I be “stealing” it? And since it is freely broadcast to everyone, the how is sharing really a problem. It does of course decrease the value of the rerun of a show. It also seemingly affects the resale of program seasons on DVD. Yet even with file sharing freely available, DVD sales of television programs are rocketing skyward. And I expect that most people still find it more convenient to have the commercial DVD of the shows with all the bonus stuff, rather than the downloaded copy.

It is more likely that if this trend continues, the networks cannot guarantee their advertisers a particular number of viewers in a particular time slot, so the value of a commercial slot drops in price. After all, it is all about the money, not the viewer or the show.