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Monday, April 10, 2006

Follow Up to My Blogs In the News Presentation...

This is a follow up to my presentation on the Vlog, which I gave in class a few weeks ago.

I heard this morning on NPR that Disney is going to offer it's ABC shows free to viewers online the day after the shows air. Reports so far indicate this will be a 2 month free trial, so we can guess where this phenomenon is going after that. The downside to catching Lost on Thursday mornings is that you will not have the ability to fast forward through commercials. You can buy these episodes of ABC and other network shows already through iTunes at approximately $1.99 a show and those do not have commercials in them, although they can only be played through the iTunes player or Quicktime (another Apple program).

This story has really grown throughout the day. As I've been working on this post, I've noticed that the coverage on it has been really expanded. NPR discussed the matter again on their evening "All Things Considered". During that piece they were considering the effect this move was going to have on ABC's network affiliates. Apparently, when shows first began being sold on iTunes there was a lot of concern that local stations were going to bear the brunt of the shift, because people would no longer tune in during the regularly scheduled time, choosing instead to watch commercial free for a small price that would go directly to the parent network. The opposite, however, proved to be true. Network affiliates actually saw rises in viewership, which experts have attributed to more people viewing the shows and then becoming involved to the point of becoming regular watchers. While I must admit I, too, am surprised by that result, it does seem to make sense. I know from my own experience that watching season 1 of a show after it was released on DVD has gotten me interested enough to watch season 2 and so forth (this is especially true for me when it comes to premium channel shows like Sex and the City and Weeds). There is speculation that the same thing will happen once ABC begins these new streams, but there is an equal measure of anxiety. So what does this all mean?

It means that television is changing and it may not be for the better. While watching traditional network television or even cable is a pretty standardized process (shows interrupted by increasingly more commercials), the internet provides a lot more possibility...a lot more possibility for viewers to get swindled. Like the old addage states, "With great power comes great responsibility" and the internet represents a lot more power for networks and advertisers alike. The whole thing, like a lot of technology, is moving far too quickly for experts to keep up, meaning that no one is really sure what is going to happen. It's like a new drug getting pushed quickly through the FDA approval process, the problems are only discovered once people begin taking it on a wide scale. While I personally like to have flexibility in my viewing schedule (I record shows and have also downloaded from iTunes) I am also wary of being taken advantage of. I have to ask myself if I'd rather pay for the pleasure of the shows I enjoy with my time (by watching advertisements) or with my money (by paying for my own personalized broadcasts).

Update: I can't believe it but one of my favorite blogs to read Thought Mechanics (#7 on Technorati's Top 100 Blogs) actually used this post and has listed me as a guest columnist on their site. I submitted it on a whim, thinking it was along the lines of their political/social watchdog theme and they apparently agreed.


At Tue Apr 11, 12:44:00 PM, Blogger Donna said...

Can you say more about how you worry people will be swindled? Are you worried that people will end up paying too much to watch TV because now they'll be downloading the programs instead of getting them "free"? (But even now, it seems that most people have cable or some other subscription TV service, so that isn't free, either.)

At Tue Apr 11, 02:24:00 PM, Blogger Megan said...

People do pay for cable right now, but that does not mean they will not pay for something else in addition. But even before I get to that, we don't pay for network television (outside of the initial purchase of a tv) so any opportunity for them to charge the public represents a huge gain for them. I think this whole process is going to be fairly graduated and people will still have the illusion of choice. You can choose to watch your show "free" at the regular time, you can download/stream it "free" on your computer with commercials, or you can purchase it for download (i.e. you can keep it) without any interruptions. That's just where it starts.

What if the networks begin incorporating even more commericials into their shows so that people have more incentive to download the show without (for a fee)? What if the networks offer deleted scenes or extra content at a nominal fee per item? What if networks begin the best money vacuum of all: a subscription based service?

The other key factor here is that putting a show on the internet is much cheaper than broadcasting it through a nationwide network of affiliates, so they can charge less and maintain a higher profit margin.

Cable has shown us that tv networks are unscrupulous. We are already paying for the privilege of watching their channel, yet they have more commercials than public networks. Of course, it is easy to say that I am exaggerating, but you at least have to admit the potential for unfair practices is there.

The question I have is whether its up to companies or consumers to exercise restraint.


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