Gigs & Bytes: Reinventing TV
We have more choices than ever before. No longer do we have to remember to tape, TiVo or even (shudder) watch actual broadcasts to keep up on our current shows. Not with the networks working overtime to accommodate viewers by providing programs that fit within our busy lifestyles. We’ve broken the shackles that bound us to programming grids, no longer forced to decide between competing choices. We time-shift whenever it pleases us and we pause live broadcasts whenever we need a break. Yes, TV has finally started serving us.
Of course, it wasn’t always that way. There was a time when you actually had to make plans for watching TV. If you wanted to watch your favorite show you actually had to make sure you were planted in front of the boob tube when the program aired. And if you missed it, you had to wait for the rerun. That was life in more primitive times.
You could say the World Wide Web has changed what we expect from entertainment channels. The get-it-now, immediate satisfaction brought about by the Web was sure to migrate to other entertainment avenues. It wasn’t long before carved-in-stone broadcast schedules seemed so yesterday when compared to the dynamics of point-and-click technology.
Disney was the first to shake us from our TV doldrums. It completed a deal with Apple last fall to sell programs from its ABC Network primetime lineup via the iTunes Music Store, thus breaking one of the last shackles of corporate TV bondage. Now you don’t have to remember to TiVo nor do you have to remember to plop a blank tape in the VCR. If you forgot to watch “Desperate Housewives” on Sunday, you can purchase it from iTunes on Monday and watch it … whenever!
After getting over the initial shock of the Apple/Disney announcement, the other networks quickly fell into step. NBC has its own iTunes niche while CBS offers programming through Comcast’s On-Demand channel. However, unfortunately for most CBS viewers, the current CBS/On Demand is currently available only in markets hosting that network’s owned and operated affiliates.
Now Disney is planning to up the instant gratification ante by offering ABC programs via the network’s Web site the day after broadcast. What’s more, unlike its offerings on iTunes where each program carries a $1.99 price tag, programs hosted by ABC.com will stream to computers absolutely free for viewers. That’s right! Free TV. Just like the old days.
Of course, free TV means commercials. In this case, commercials that you can’t fast-forward through. But being able to watch last night’s episode of your favorite program while sitting at your computer is worth sitting through a few ads. Or, if you’re feeling nostalgic, those ads will give you a chance to do whatever people used to do when faced with commercials.
But while offering television programs via network Web sites might seem like a logical next step to some, for Disney it was the chance to avoid what the company perceived as mistakes by the music industry in regards to digital delivery opportunities. The original Mickey Mouse company did not want to see its content hijacked and distributed throughout the globe for free. At least, not without having a say about it.
Speaking at an investor conference, Walt Disney Co.’s president and CEO, Robert Iger, said he was “sobered” by the music industry’s experiences during the early days of file sharing, saying the record labels resisted selling songs online while millions of fans were expressing their preference for music downloading.
It’s because of this, Iger said, that he didn’t want to see his own company fall behind the times.
“The bottom line is they were not in tune with what their customers wanted and what the world was demanding of them and I think it hurt them significantly,” Iger said. “I don’t want to wake up and see all the traffic moving onto new platforms.”
Beginning next month, the plan calls for ABC programs such as “Lost,” “Desperate Housewives” and “Commander In Chief” to be made available on ABC’s Web site the day after the shows air on primetime. The network will also make the entire season of “Alias” available.
Iger also said that this is just the beginning, and there will be more programs offered very soon.
“To say that I’m aggressive might be an understatement here,” Iger said. “I’m thoroughly pleased with what ABC did and we’re going to do more of it as a company on other sites.”
Iger also addressed potential problems that were raised when the original Disney/iTunes deal was announced, mainly how to deal directly with consumers without ticking off established distribution channels like local affiliate stations as well as movie theaters, retailers and cable companies.
“We’re not looking to abandon them, we’re not looking to betray them, we’re not looking to do anything that is designed to harm their business,” Iger said. “At the same time, what we can’t do is we can’t let a fear of that relationship being challenged or creating tension with them get in the way of following consumers who are going to other places. We just can’t do that.”