Earlier this month, Jack Bauer was unable to avoid the roving band of pirates in the Torrent scene as the four part 24 Season Premiere hit the internet weeks ahead of its air-date. With screeners of LOST‘s hotly anticipated February 7th episode circulating around the media, is it possible that ABC’s serial phenom could be next?

Yesterday, unmarked envelopes began appearing in film and tv critics mailboxes across the country. Inside was a disk with a simple screen-print logo: LOST – Not in Portland. Oh, how I wish I was one of those people. On the other hand, from that very same body of people came the illicit release of 24’s four part premiere. So the question would seem to be not “if” LOST’s return episode will make it onto the digital frontier, but when and what will the impact be. 24 will be a good test of this when it airs this weekend. Will 24’s ratings be hurt by the wide spread release of the first four episodes? Or will it help? Think about it, what better way to bring new fans to a show then through forbidden fruit? If the confessed LOST freak down the aisle suddenly snags an episode five weeks early, how much more enticing is that to folks who’ve never watched the show? It’s like having secret knowledge of the universe. I propose the benchmark for this effect will not be this weekends premier of 24, but in the following week. Even though subsequent episodes will, indeed, be available on torrent, those episodes will come out hours after the episode airs. In general, they are of more interest to folks living outside the market. I mean, who in the US is going to wait for the torrent instead of getting a nice first generation no-fuss no-muss Tivo? So before you lecture on the impact on ratings, think about it for a minute.