A brief follow-up on TV distribution…

04/08/2006

I wrote a post a few days ago called Quick observations on TV distribution in which I made a number of outrageous claims that I pretty much stand by. It was a bit of an off-the-cuff and not entirely digested attempt to throw out the core bits of the stuff that’s been in my head for a while, so I thought I should briefly mention that I’ve posted a couple of comments in the thread responding to some other people’s opinions and expanding briefly on a couple of the points:

(1) My assumption is that you pay these companies for a whole bunch of television you never even watch – that in terms of ‘must-see’ TV, people probably only really care about five – ten shows at any given time – and that most TV series arcs are between twelve and twenty five weeks, so that’s between a quarter and a half of a year. So even at today’s prices, you’d be paying what – $350 every six months – sixty dollars a month equivalent for ten new fresh shows downloaded every week of month. Now that’s clearly too much money, but it’s not too much by an enormous margin. Drop it down by a third and, you know, you’ve got yourself a deal – between eight to ten shows a week distributed down to my equipment for me to own and use immediately and for as long as I like for about $10 a week? That doesn’t seem so unreasonable.

(2) Think about it this way – the motivation for the content producers is not to give all the revenue to the content distributors, and they may not have to – you only have to see the straight-to-DVD market that Disney exploits to see that, and many shows recently (Futurama / Firefly) make more money on DVD than on TV distribution. There’s already a market (albeit relatively small) for people to buy programmes that have never been (or barely been) on TV. And there’s a huge market for buying media outright. So if it’s in their interest to try and get rid of the middle-man (or find a new one that’s more favourable to them), then they’re eventually going to start working in ways that make things difficult for the TV channels who obviously don’t want their audience balkanised. So they’ll either form partnerships with the content distributors for revenue sharing or they’ll gradually look towards different types of content that don’t suit download so well (Big Brother, perpetual rolling news, radio-style programming, live broadcasts).

(3) In terms of how you promote things if you just avoid broadcasting the shows themselves – well the same way you promote everything else that isn’t a TV show. They promote films without showing them on TV first, they promote albums without people hearing them first. You can buy ads on the TV that’s left, you can put things in the papers, etc. etc. My personal favourite – the US pilot season currently produces dozens of throwaway episode that never get shown, where instead every episode produced as a pilot is released to the public for free download (for the first month) and then if they get enough interest in the show in terms of direct subscriptions or individual pay-for downloads then they produce a full series. All TV shows are risks obviously, so this might move the burden of risk more onto the content producers than the networks, which might produce a more risk averse environment and a need for those companies to get in more revenue with which they can support the failures, but this is only a shift in money generation from the networks to the studios, and that often happens with middle-men anyway. And on the other hand, self-financed projects might get more access to the mainstream, fan favourites could be supported literally by the fans rather than by the advertisers. Componentised, smaller, more nible, more responsive media focused on meeting every niche need. It could work enormously well.

And I should also point out to the people whose post I can see on Technorati but not on their own site for some reason, that I’m not so much predicting that, “Internet TV will move from pay-per-episode to a pay-per-season, one-time subscription model” but that pay-per-season, one-time subscription is the best way to get down the programmes that you actually always want to watch, and that implementing the podcast-like functionality alongside individual downloads at a higher price is the best way to meet user needs and to make downloadable programming a real partner to traditional broadcast.