05 November 2010

Buffet style

A la carte TV

I've been pushing for this for a long time. I basically only use ESPN at this point (Comedy central is watched online). Even the History or Discovery Channels serve no purpose anymore. And I might pay for several HBO shows or a couple on AMC, but not for the movie channels themselves.

Basically what seems to be the argument here is that bundling allows for higher quality programming. Except that it doesn't. The actual source of what are considered higher quality shows tends to be not the cable networks, but the premium networks (HBO/Showtime). Every once in a while SyFy does something considered good (Battlestar was actually pretty lame, especially the ending). And AMC seems to be having a pretty good run (they've even a zombie show now that got its highest ratings ever). So if the argument is that bundling will kill the quality, maybe it'll kill a couple shows, but those shows might have ended up on a premium channel instead of a cable channel. The actual source of a high quality show as a perception tends to be that it hits a good niche in the market of entertainment and gathers a devoted following, and not that it tries to appeal to the broader, casual, person seeking explosions and full frontal nudity on television.

Ideally you'd be paying for the show itself, as often happens with people buying or renting the DVDs now, or paying for the channels that have the shows you wanted to watch. In my opinion what that actually means is that if a show isn't very good, and nobody wants to pay, say, $2 an episode to watch it, it's going to die off anyway. The actual impact is that fewer crappy shows get made, not fewer good ones, or alternatively, that more shows which have a strong niche appeal are made and which develop strong followings. It's true that there would be less revenue involved. This model does seem to have hurt music labels, but I'm not very concerned if media moguls profit margins are hurt. It concerns me more that we get to pay less money to those media moguls, or alternatively, that we only pay them more money if they give us a product that we actually wanted in the first place. There's another problem too at the other end. I'm not willing to pay $40 a month or so just to watch basketball games on cable right now. I don't participate in the market at all that way if I don't pay for their product. If they instead let me buy just the channel(s) I wanted, at a rate I feel was fair for those channels, or the shows I wanted (when there are shows I'd want to watch), then I'd be spending money on this. Instead I can just buy DVDs, go to the movies, or browse the internet (essentially watching TV for free on the last part). There will be an increasing number of people doing this last part and it would seem like the appropriate response is to make a flexible approach to selling something to them. This is the model adopted by iTunes and its clones in the music market. It hasn't stopped piracy or free riding completely, but it's a lot better than having to pay $15 for a new CD that has only some songs you might have wanted in the first place. There's a market there now that didn't exist and which could be captured in television as well. Shifting to it, in my opinion, would look a lot more like indie rock scenes with lots of niches with their own tastes for high quality rather than a plummeting cliff of entertainment quality.
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