I don’t watch a great deal of television, but I am devoted to the shows I do watch. I read articles on them, watch promos and behind-the-scenes footage, trade trivia with my friends, and generally mine them for every scrap of entertainment value I can get out of them. The problem is that I very rarely get to watch them as they are broadcast due to wrangling Cub and Kitten into bed, a process that eats up damn near all of Prime Time. “Well,” I think, looking at the clock, “they’re finally asleep, but The Mentalist is half-over already. Oh well, I’ll catch it online later.”
A day or three later, I open the laptop and browse over to CBS’s site. Oh look…they have full episodes for almost every show available for viewing online. Notice that I said “almost” every show? Yeah…they only have short clips of The Mentalist. So off I go to the torrent sites or link farms, where dozens of hosts provide the content I want to watch.
Even if the networks are posting episodes, some of them are adding hoops and hurdles to get to them. TNT has this bizarre partnership thing going on where you have to log in with your cable provider information. The problem is that they don’t list my provider, which is the second-largest cable provider in the country. I sent them an e-mail explaining that I am perfectly willing to sit through commercials in an online episode, therefore contributing to their advertising revenue, but no one ever responded. Oh well. Guess I’ll use one of the streaming sites I have bookmarked to watch Leverage without the commercials.
Contrast all of this with ABC, which posts the last five episodes of Grimm on their site. That gives me a month or more to catch up, which I happily do.
Then there are the shows from other countries. Apparently, no one at any cable company, network, or studio has caught on to the fact that the first two Ws in “www” stand for “World-Wide.” For example, a friend just turned me on to the show Lost Girl. The show is about a girl who discovers she is a succubus, and is introduced to the world of the Light and Dark Fae. Very much up my alley. It’s an original series from Canadian cable channel Showcase, but SyFy just started airing it in the US. Here’s the thing, though…why would I wait for SyFy to air the episodes when I know there are almost two complete seasons of the show already out there? I went to Showcase’s site, where they have most of the episodes posted, but I get a notice that I can’t access them since I’m in the US. Hellooooo, torrents. Once SyFy got distribution rights, they could have posted all of the episodes and added in their own commercials, but they aren’t even posting the episodes they’ve already aired.
And then the industry has the balls to complain about lost revenue? Hey, pals, you’re the ones with the outdated distribution method. If given the opportunity, I have no problems watching a show on your site, even with commercials. It allows you to keep your ad revenue (funding the shows I like), and gives you a more accurate count of viewers – rather than relying solely on the steam-powered Nielsen Rating system – which keeps my favorite shows on the air. I’d even pay to access an archive of past episodes if I’m a latecomer to a show that’s been on for multiple seasons, or you can keep licensing those to Netflix and I’ll catch them there. Just please, please realize that once a show has aired, it’s going to be available somewhere online within a couple of hours. You’re not going to be able to get that particular episode of I Dream of Jeannie back into the bottle, so you may as well put it on your site and retain some control. I think most folks are like me, and would watch it there as a way of supporting it. Stop relying on false data to support overreaching bills like SOPA and PIPA and change your business model. Of course, that would also mean you’d have to revamp your accounting system to reflect reality, and…wait…I think we may have found the problem.
As a consumer, here’s what I would go for: keep the current season of your shows available on your site. Either retain the commercials throughout each episode, or have one long one at the beginning as a special sponsorship. Archive past seasons, and ask viewers to pay a small fee to access them by season. It might be a good idea to widely distribute the pilot episode to try and draw in new viewers. Post it on YouTube or allow Netflix to stream it. And of course, keep it available on your site. Requiring a sign-up is pretty much expected anymore, but stop the weird third-party partnerships. If you want global distribution, make deals with channels in other countries to simultaneously host your content on their site with local commercials inserted. Enough with the “The US will get it first, Canada three months later, Europe nine weeks after that, etc.” Is there any rational reason for staggering distribution anymore? By the time BBC America or PBS get the new Sherlock episodes, I’ve already watched them online and have no incentive to tune into those channels (or their advertisers).
Yes, I’m selfish. Yes, I demand instant gratification. But I’m also willing to allow you to advertise to me, because I know that’s how these shows are funded. If I really like the show, I’ll even buy the DVD boxed set when the show wraps for all of the extras I mentioned in the first paragraph. Honestly, just make it easy to watch the show on my schedule.
Or I can buckle on my swash, don my parrot, and plunder it.