April 11, 2006
Expanding the viewing experience

Dwight notes the story about Disney making its shows available via streaming video on its website the day after they run as a service to fans may have missed them. There's a catch, of course: you can't skip the commercials.

ABC will stream four of its shows, Desperate Housewives, Lost, Alias, and Commander In Chief, for free on its Website for a two-month trial period, from May to the end of June. Users will be able to watch current episodes of Housewives, Lost, and Commander, while the entire current season of Alias will be available for viewing.

All of the shows, save for Alias, are already available as $1.99 downloads at Apple's iTunes store, but this marks the first time current episodes will be availabe for free, with commercials. The shows will be presented in a 16x9 cinema format, and users will be able to skip back and forth between the chapters of an episode. However, users won't be able to fast-forward through the ads like they do with a DVR.

"We have said all along that we are dedicated to finding ways to bring our advertiser partners along with us as we embrace new ways of doing business in the world of digital media," said Mike Shaw, president of sales and marketing at ABC.

Now, I don't know how big the market is for people who don't have a digital video recorder - either a TiVo or a service provided by their cable/satellite company - yet who are willing and able to sit at their computer and watch the shows they missed. It's probably decent-sized now, but surely isn't going to grow. This is a stopgap solution, and it's hard to say how popular it will be.

I should note that it's a good idea on a couple of fronts. For one, it ought to keep the national advertisers happy, though as Marketplace on NPR pointed out last night, it won't do a thing for affiliate stations that depend on local ad revenue. It's also a way to draw in new viewers who have heard about a show but don't want to jump into it midseason, and don't want to wait for or spend the money on the DVD later. I think one reason why 24 became such a hit in its first season despite its then-unconventional formula was that Fox reran each episode on Saturday on FX, and did a catchup marathon six weeks into the season. With that, I daresay they were able to add viewers who'd missed out early would have otherwise been lost by its byzantine plot twists.

For what it's worth, if it came down to it I'd choose the $1.99 iPod download for an ep I missed. Most hourlong shows are about 45 minutes in real length. My time is way more valuable than such a little amount of money - the fifteen extra minutes is definitely worth the two bucks. I'm going to guess I'm not alone in that assessment, too.

On a tangential note, USA Today writes about the popularity of blogs for some TV shows. What's different now is that instead of strictly fanblogs, the hot thing these days is blogs by the producers/actors/directors of a given show.

"It really behooves all the shows to do this," says Steve Andrade, vice president of interactive development for NBC. "I've been in this job for 10 years. For the first time, all the creative people in town are finally realizing how advantageous it is to work in this space. They all know it's going to be part of their future. There is no model. We're all trying to figure it out."

But Andrade warns blogging can get bloated. "Every blog is not necessary. The key to blogs is if they work from a creative point of view."

Like the Disney effort, the idea here is to draw in new fans, while helping to maintain the loyalty and enthusiasm of regulars. Episodic TV these days is a lot meatier than it was when I was a kid, and many shows are interesting to talk about. Some shows provide all kinds of little goodies for the attentive fan, which is something that I as a speed-watcher/multitasker definitely appreciate, since I never catch them on my own. (Yes, that's an old-fashioned fan site, not an "official" show blog. We'll always have those - there's plenty of room for multiple communities, and not all blogs serve the same purpose.) Giving people a place to talk about them - creating a community, in other words - is just smart business. This is something I expect to see a lot more of in the future.

Link via the SixApart blog.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 11, 2006 to TV and movies | TrackBack

It's wishful thinking that this is the start of the dismantling of the horribly inefficient and wasteful local affiliate system, but it's a start.

Posted by: Laurence Simon on April 11, 2006 7:57 AM

Blogs by actors/directors/writers = virtual con. Non scifi fans might now get some of the pleasure in connecting with the people who make the shows that entertain them.

Posted by: Misty on April 11, 2006 11:43 AM

I don't know how big the market is for people who don't have a digital video recorder ... yet who are willing and able to sit at their computer and watch the shows they missed. It ... surely isn't going to grow.

I'm not so sure about that. Your assuming that everyone will find a DVR preferable to a computer for watching TV.

Right now that's a good bet, because the DVR is usually hooked up to our "real" TV, while the computer is hooked up to a smaller monitor where only one person can watch at a time. But combined TV/monitors exist, and some are big enough to replace the "real" TV. If ABC's idea takes off, people might start combining their TV and computer screens to take advantage of it.

... the fifteen extra minutes is definitely worth the two bucks.

Probably, but keep in mind not all your time is equally valuable.

Many folks make the mistake of converting their work salary to an hourly rate, then measuring the "value" of all their time accordingly. But that's a fallacy, since no one can work 24/7/365 even if they wanted to.

If you have limited time for entertainment, then buying commercial-free versions can certainly make sense. (For instance, if you have only three hours per day for TV, going commercial-free will let you squeeze in a fourth show.) But I wouldn't prejudge someone who makes a different choice.

Posted by: Mathwiz on April 11, 2006 2:31 PM