Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Trying to Keep Up

The National Association of Television Programming Executives is holding their annual convention in Las Vegas this week and like last week’s CES, it’s the time when new shows and new television technologies are rolled out.

If what’s been revealed on the first day is any indication, the changes we’ve been experiencing in the industry are mild tremors compared to the coming quake.

So far I haven’t seen anything on the programming front that signifies a trend let alone a sea change. The mashing of formats continues, with a myriad of copycats and tired concepts staffed with fresh new faces. My favorite so far, “Trailer Court Justice” – think Jerry Springer meets Cops meets Judge Judy with former wrestling greats sitting on the bench.

But the real story is delivery systems that continue to free audiences from the structured planning of network programmers or even the need to own a television.

Netflix will now augment mailed DVD’s with a plan to stream DVDs directly to your PC at approximately one dollar per hour of viewing. Given that so many systems exist to relay your computer screen to your television, the need to make two trips to the Blockbuster store, which Netflix replaced with a single return mail trip to the corner mailbox is now a simple click of the mouse.

Quality and DVD extras may be an issue for some. Netflix claims the former won’t be a problem and the latter is to come.

Broadband operators Revver and Brightcove have moved into the convention as a new window for syndicated shows. Within the next year, you will have the choice of watching strip fodder such as “Baywatch” in the slot your local TV station has placed it or whenever the hell you want to watch it.

The Broadband booths have been inundated by the Indy producers who flock to NATPE in their thousands with show reels in hope of landing a syndication deal and D2DVD producers looking for formerly elusive TV sales. Now they have a new group of very motivated buyers and traditional broadcasters have a new elephant in the room.

This competitor made for perhaps an even worse day for those broadcasters who depend on others to produce their programming. Turns out Content really is King and more markets mean higher prices for buyers. Those with libraries to sell are looking at a bright future.

New advertising models are everywhere as well with the dawning realization that people like things better when they don't have to pay for them.

Canadian broadcasters might want to rethink those subscriber fees…

During his keynote address for the NATPE Mobile Conference, Endemol UK's Peter Cowley said, “The most interesting user statistic for us has been that as you move people from a pay to a free, ad-funded model, usage grows dramatically.”

Pay-per-downloads of the 2005 season of "Big Brother", amounted to fewer than 10,000 video clips. But when Endemol converted to a free ad-supported model in the 2006 season, 24 million broadband clips were downloaded.

But perhaps the biggest news was the announcement that Janus Friis and Niklas Zennström, inventors of Skype and Kazaa, will soon launch “Joost”. Joost will offer studios, broadcasters around the world and virtually anyone who wants to distribute high-quality video over the Internet, fast, efficient and cheap distribution.

Joost promises to replicate the TV viewing experience better than any of the other companies currently trying to wed TV to the PC. A menu allows users to switch channels with a click, have PVR control of the content and access to any show offered regardless of the time of day. They can also skip ahead or backward within a show, sampling it before making a choice.

The company will support itself with advertising, specifically Internet ads that behave just like TV commercials.

If I was a Canadian broadcaster depending on a schedule hog-tied by simulcasts, short on original content and waiting for Telefilm and CTF to get into their next budget year so I could access some free production money, I wouldn’t be a very happy guy. If I had tons of original material that was ready to go and cost friendly, I’d be smiling like a sonovabitch! :)


Marilyn said...

Seriously? Discovering that people like to get things for free was a surprise?

Oh my.

Thanks for the post (frightening as it may be...).

synge said...

That seems obvious, that people should like to get things for free. But in advertising, at least in print, there's a contradictory truth: people value things based on what they pay for them. So advertising costs are higher in magazines that you pay for, and lower in publications you get for fee.

I think this just shows how the broadcast industry is so vested in the advertising model, and might not be able to think its way outside of its own box.