I observed today that it’s now possible in the US to not only buy individual episodes of Lost via iTunes but that the Season Pass functionality now includes automatic delivery of all future episodes of the show for a massively decreased total price of $35 (about ¬£20) rather than for the nearly $50 that it would cost to buy each individually. I think that price reduction really points to the future of this kind of media distribution. I’ve been talking about this kind of pay-for podcast-like distribution mechanism for TV shows for a while on this site and in various work-related contexts over the last couple of years – and I really think this model is the way forward. It’s almost such an obvious thing to say that I can’t believe I’m writing it down, except that I know for a lot of people working in the media it still appears to be some weird pipe-dream of weirdo techno-futurism that’ll never catch on. But then you should see the faces of many of my media-working friends in the UK when I tell them that Battlestar Galactica in the US is run with a note onscreen reading, “Buy this episode tomorrow on iTunes”. They barely believe that’s true either. The future is here, dudes. The model is working. A change is gonna come.
As I’ve said before, I think we’re approaching a world in which a near-live media distribution environment will be a major partner to broadcast TV within five-ten years. This environment will be focused on show-by-show subscriptions and ultimate personalisation to get stuff down to viewers over normal broadband and mediated by the bog-standard boring old internet – probably even through the web. And it’s my suspicion that there may only be enough room for five or six major (partially democratised) distribution hubs (at a complete guess as mentioned in the above post: Amazon, AOL, Apple, Yahoo, Microsoft and Google). The group that’s going to have the most trouble with this is the public sector broadcasters – they need to be trying to work out how to influence and work with that environment and find a space for free or publically supported content as soon as is bloody possible, rather than trying to develop their own necessarily prescribed and undersupported media distribution platforms. They’re going to be under enough pressure to figure out how they’re helping compensate for market failure (in an environment with a space for every niche and genre interest) without having to deal with all these distribution questions too. Or at least so it seems to me.