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Netflix Users Face Long Wait For Mad Men

If the long wait for the fifth season of Mad Men was trying your patience, don’t hold out too much hope for Netflix. The streamer of online entertainment and DVD rental giant says it bought the rights to stream all of Mad Men’s seven seasons, and will make the first four seasons available in July, but it won’t stream the final three seasons until after they first appear on AMC. Variety says it will pay around $1 million per episode. Meanwhile, other websites registered overseas are already streaming the first four series.

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Here’s the dilemma for viewers: the much-anticipated fifth season of Mad Men, that immaculately tailored cult series set in a Madison Avenue advertising firm in the 1960s, isn’t due to hit television screens until March 2012. In that case, Netflix viewers who don’t subscribe to cable would not get to see the newest series of Mad Men until later that year. In the digital era where we want everything yesterday, the timing may be off.

Netflix spokesman Steve Swasey tells Pay Dirt the service is complementary to cable, and cites the company’s rapid growth. “The beauty of Netflix is completeness more than freshness,” he says.

Will consumers eventually run out of patience for this show?

Lions Gate Entertainment, which produces Mad Men, didn’t respond to a request for comment. However, industry players are increasingly concerned by a growing resource of websites where viewers can watch just-screened television shows. One of the longest-running, Alluc.org, registered in Germany, provides links to Mad Men episodes from the first four seasons via sites like Megavideo.com.

Consumers tempted by the availability of shows online don’t always recognize the difference between a legitimate online streamer and one that has no deal with the production company, or at least turn a blind eye to the latter. One thing that most legal experts agree on: it’s very difficult for production companies to stop websites based in other jurisdictions from streaming TV shows and movies, and if one website is shut down another will likely pop up in its place.

A case in point: this week, the Motion Picture Association of America filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against Zediva.com. It alleges: “Zediva claims it is like a brick-and-mortar DVD rental store and therefore not obligated to pay licensing fees to copyright holders. But the DVD rental label is a sham. In reality, Zediva is a video-on-demand service that transmits movies over the Internet using streaming technologies in violation of the studios’ copyrights.”

Zediva specifically advertises its service as providing new movies “before Netflix and Redbox.” It streams movies after they’re released on DVD, and declined to comment on the lawsuit. It’s registered with GoDaddy.com and hosted at a data center in Santa Clara, California.  Zediva’s website indicates that demand has been brisker than expected, stating, “Registration is temporarily closed while we’re building more capacity.”

When it comes to shows like Mad Men, are you prepared to wait?

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  • Pay Dirt examines the millions of consumer decisions Americans make every day: What to buy, how much to pay, whether to rave or complain. Lead written by Quentin Fottrell, the blog examines these interactions, providing readers with news, insight and tips on shopping, spending, customer service, and companies that do right – and wrong – by their customers. Send items, questions and comments to quentin.fottrell@dowjones.com or tweet @SMPayDirt.

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