Wk5: I Want My D2C – how can instant TV work?

ABC's iView - a sign of greater things to come?

I agree with Michelle Griffin in her recent SMH article (link) that suggests Australians are third class citizen when it comes to digital consumption.

Amongst the many great points she makes, she suggests that people download so they don’t have to avoid the internet for months. How could you avoid revelations in Mad Men or Lost? Even airing Lost within two weeks of the US date was too late.

But why did it take so long at all? What are the blockages? What’s being done? And will it work?

Programming a TV station must be hell – I’m not going to pretend it’s easy. People who complain about how Sopranos was on at 2am have a point, but God knows how many parties get their say – contracts, advertisers, ratings etc. What to air?

New shows are a risk, and Australian TV still sometimes waits for it to be a hit in it’s home country before committing money. Network schedules are worked out far in advance, and ratings times fluctuate between countries. Holding back a Lost premiere by a couple of weeks might lead to real boost in advertising money.

But Australian TV is learning. The ABC just announced Doctor Who will be airing within the same week of the UK dates next season. They even managed to show the Christmas episode within 24 hours. Brendan Dahill, network programmer for ABC1, even acknowledged Australia’s advanced downloading as the primary reason for this.

Yet, they call this “fasttrack”. It needs to be the norm!

A more impressive and innovative solution from the ABC came last year, when they put the new episodes of Doctor Who on their online iView service straight away, allowing the slower moving TV audience to get to it a couple of weeks later. A great move. ABC has the rights. iView is not a slave to programming time slots. And there’s no need to worry about advertisers.

We are hitting the point for TV that music hit years ago – people who have gone digital and people who have stayed traditional are exclusive. Those who download and/or watch online are not going to watch it on TV – ever. And if you don’t cater to that audience, you’ve lost them.

TV ratings are like music charts – they don’t represent a large part of the audience. Those who watch, listen and love, but don’t contribute to ratings. But downloading TV shows and movies can still be a pain. Is there a way to bring the two together – an online viewing world?

To do it, the big TV studios will have to break down some old school boundaries. But it’s feasible and imaginable.

BBC’s iPlayer is fantastic. The quality is great. And easy to use. They commission and own most of their material. But it is, of course, geo-blocked but free to UK users.

But what if I could pay?

I would definitely do it. Maybe some people wont, but I would get every TV show just after UK airings. Live streaming of the channels. All the neat social features and recommendations. It’s an awesome program!

Will they lose buckets of money if they do this? Maybe. What they get from subscriptions, they will lose on syndication to overseas channels. There is still big money for regular TV.

But it comes back to my point of two audiences. Would a direct-to-consumer TV portal appeal to much more than the downloaders, the digitally savvy? It will probably eat away a bit – but at least it’s not free.

Another way to look at it is much like Netflix Watch Instantly that breaks international boundaries and is tied to a TV studio. The technology is there – but maybe the big shows have too much money involved to take that risk. But there are other shows.

But there are other shows. Despite what your cable network will tell you, there’s only so many hours and channels. And none of it is on demand.

Sticking with the BBC, I can think of dozens of shows that are great, and not on TV. And they could have it online. Blackadder. State Of Play. More.

I know that cable networks occasionally gets some shows – like Black Books. But again – it’s two audiences. Those who browse channels to see what’s on are different to those who have heard about Black Books and want to watch it now. And for new shows, these savvy people are tastemakers, spreading precious word-of-mouth.

Imagine a HBO player. Access to the latest shows and all the old classics. On US release dates. HD streaming quality. No more waiting for Channel 9 to show something at 2am. How much would you pay a month for that?

Then there’s shows like Bored To Death, or all those awesome HBO telemovies. Chances are these second tier shows will never make a splash overseas. What have HBO got to lose from making them available online.

Then there’s international shows. PPS is a service who does something similar for Cantonese shows – shows that have no hope for a local syndication.

Finally, there are shows made by independent studios or have fallen into a rights abyss.

A bright, varied and full digital TV catalogue online. That’s the dream.

But it might not last. There is one very big hurdle to overcome, and one that is coming up quickly;

What happens when the TV becomes a computer?

iPlayer works on Apple TV, and can be accessed from some gaming consoles. But those are special cases, and special interfaces. Full net access from a TV is still not commonplace. But it’s coming.

Why would you watch the Brady Bunch on Foxtel/Sky, when you can watch Boardwalk Empire on a HBO player that can be accessed from your TV. And why would a TV station buy Boardwalk Empire’s rights?

Maybe there will always be passive viewers who want things programmed for them. But for everyone else, why will there be any need for TV stations at all? Especially all those ones that just pump out marathons of old TV shows.

So, maybe the TV station, previously the only distributor of TV shows, has to die before this can happen. Unless they can adapt.

TV viewers are getting more demanding. The downloading genie is out of the bottle. And one of the reasons we download is because we don’t want to wait, and it’s easier.

But the TV studios can give us what we want – instant availability, watched at our own pace. Wrap up the package with old shows and other bonuses. Direct to consumer – no middle man.

Culture Vultures Forced To Go Pirate – Mary Griffin’s SMH article (http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/culture-vultures-forced-go-pirate-20110107-19ikg.html)

PPS streaming for Cantonese TV shows (http://www.ppstream.com/)

BBC iPlayer (http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer) UK only, really.

ABC iView (http://www.abc.net.au/iview/)

Doctor Who Transmission on ABC news, with Brendan Dahill’s quote (http://www.doctorwhonews.net/2011/01/dwn260111235812-australia-transmission.html)

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