Friday, September 19, 2008

On balancing profit and profit

Television networks, as we all know, exist to sell advertising. The BBC can, in this context, be ignored, as can the CBC and most definitely PBS. A TV network is a means to sell advertising. This does mean that they have a duty to their shareholders to reject ads which are too irritating (so I cannot for the life of me comprehend why, on every ad break recently, an unreasonably perky woman foghorns out a "HI! CAN WE TAKE A MOMENT TO TALK ABOUT YOUR COLON?", closely followed by the three bloops of a TiVo being told to floor it and get us past this horrific advert), and of course they must needs devise some method of inducing people to watch the adverts.

This is what TV shows are for. You might have thought that TV networks' primary purpose was to make shows, but you'd be wrong in that thought. The shows are a way to get you tuned in for the adverts. However, people being what they are, all the viewers miss the point entirely and get caught up in these expensive timesinks that the networks would really rather not have to deal with. However, if the networks didn't make shows available, they'd be unable to get people to watch their advertisers' productions, so shows there will be. Of course, in these days of the interwebs, viewers will feel safe in missing a show, because there's always a way to get it. For some time, said way was via people who would capture the show, edit it somewhat, and put it on the intertubes (YARRRRR!), but then the networks realised, after the advent of YouTube and the realisation that people really would watch a pixellated version of something in a tiny window and think it was wonderful, because they were getting it on demand, that they could do similar. Of course, this was unlikely to keep their advertisers happy, so they had to develop means to insert unskippable advertisements into their intertron versions of the shows, and did so.

All this is leading up to the fact that I was never a watcher of Lost, but the LA convinced me that I should give it a try. The TiVo concurred, and when one of the channels we get but don't know why we get started running it from the start, it recorded the first episode for us to try. Suffice to say, it's now under orders to continue recording episodes, but there is a slight problem. This is that the channel re-running Lost is doing so in four-hour blocks, and so there are three hours I can't watch. Not to worry, thought I, and hied me to ABC's website, where I found that full episodes were available. "Score!", thought I, bookmarked it, and then had a couple of Busy Days. Today, I returned to find that the Flash-based streaming has now given way to a "Download our player. No, we won't tell you what else it does. No, there is no alternative." setup. I promptly issued a California Freeway Salute, and went over to Netflix, to add the first disc of season 1 to the top of the queue over there.

My point is that there is a fine line to be walked between protecting your IP (the shows, which are valuable IP insofar as a) they allow ads to be sold and b) they can be sold as DVD sets (thus proving that people will buy anything; in the TV business, shows are actually the equivalent of pork scratchings to the advertisers' porkchops)) and keeping your consumers (not customers; the customers of a TV network are the advertisers) happy. ABC crossed that line when they required a download.

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