Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The future: They just don't get it | The Sydney Morning Herald

David Dale from the Sydney Morning Herald Entertainment Blog takes a look at downloading TV programs and how the network execs seem to have problems acknowledging it.

At a forum on the future of television last week, David Leckie, managing director of Channel Seven, was asked if he was worried about people obtaining programs via the net because they can't get what they want from mainstream TV. He said this: "OK, the world's gonna fragment, we know that, but have you seen how hard it is right now to download anything? In five, ten, 15 years nobody knows, but it's not affecting our audience, I can guarantee that. And the two or three people ... I'm sure they've downloaded and they're having fantastic fun talking about Desperate Housewives going to air real time right now in the United States but you know what? It's not really affecting our audiences."

There is just so much to say here, and I don't have the time to do it justice, from the media datacasting rules set up all those years ago to squash competition (of which broadband internet has bypassed), to the highs and lows of using BitTorrent, to the business model for making money from VOD.

Sam Chisholm, managing director of Channel Nine, was asked if viewers were alienated by the erratic scheduling of their favourite shows. He said there was "no evidence that it irritates viewers" and continued: "Maybe you do shift programs but there's no point in trying to ram down viewers' throats programming that they arguably don't want to see. So we put them on with the best will in the world, but if they don't work then we've got to move them to provide the best programming that they do want. If we did treat them with contempt we'd say well there it is, that's your lot, as they say in the garden program that's your blooming lot, get on with it, but we don't do that, that's why we're moving and shifting things and changing them."

These gentlemen are living in cloud cuckoo land. When this column reported last week that Nine was going to make viewers wait till next year to see the season finales of CSI, Cold Case, Without a Trace and The Closer, we received 327 emails expressing varying degrees of rage.

Here's what I don't get. They have content. Whether it goes to air or not, they have access to that content. They make money by letting people watch that content. Wouldn't it make sense to find ways to let people watch as much of the content they want to see as they can? Charge them for it or find new ways to integrate advertising? If there's issues in the arrangements for transmission of that content (can only be broadcast once, etc) then someone in charge needs to think outside the box when negotiation time comes round. The sooner these people stop thinking of themselves as TV stations and more as video/media distributors the sooner things will turn around for them.

But then, these are the same guys who told us a week ago that the future was TV, only smaller.

Here's a start.

Steve Safran, Managing Editor of U.S. TV blog Lost Remote had some great ideas on how to save the recently cancelled FOX show "Arrested Development".
(Editor's note - What is it with Fox and dropping innovative and interesting television programs? Says something about their audience? Their executives? Heaven knows the Simpsons hasn't been the same since they took more interest, and the less said about Firefly...)

Here’s what "Arrested Development" and its producers should do once they are are free of the network shackles and retake ownership:

# Offer the show online and on VOD every week for free
# Make it a free video podcast
# Seed Bittorrent with it.
# Set up a site that has all the shows right there, along with shorter-form content, ready to watch or download in all formats
# Have the cast blog - in character. Have them do video blogs and even live webcasts in character, too
# After each show, have viewers comment and then address their comments. Invite the best commenters to have a guest spot on the show
# Heck - invite fans to shoot their own fan-fic shows. Celebrate “AD” as the first open-source sitcom
# Web contests: “GET ARRESTED”! “George Bluth is hiding somewhere on the web. Clues are available both online and at geocaching locations. Find him, and you’ll be on a show - and not just in a cameo role - as the man who caught George!”
# Find a title sponsor, but for just enough money to make a dent in your budget.

Then comes the money:

“Arrested Development” is already a proven, strong DVD seller. Put out DVDs with all the extra content you’ve created on the web. Don’t wait until after the season is done: put out a month’s worth of shows every four weeks on one DVD.

After four weeks, the video podcast version will cost 99 cents. The VOD version will be 49 cents after the initial month, for the rest of the year. After that, older episodes will be just a quarter.

Invite premium membership on your site for unlimited archival access and free podcast downloads, in addition to direct access via chats with stars. Auction walk-on parts on eBay

It will be a phenomenal success. There is one warning, however: “Arrested Development” will make so much money that the networks will try to woo it back. Under no circumstances should the show make that mistake.

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