Why people won’t pay for TV shows

March 21st, 2012 § 0 comments

It’s a rather tired argument at this point. TV studios bemoan the fact that consumers are willing to pay $.99 for a song but cry fowl if they have to pay $2.99 for a TV show. It generally costs far more to produce to produce a single episode of a television show than it does for an entire album, so why aren’t we willing to pay more for it?

I’ve long assumed it was because we might listen to a song over and over again but will only watch a show once but I recently realized that this argument completely misses the underlying psychology. Just watch someone hem and haw about paying $.99 for an iPhone app while they chew on a comparably priced Snickers bar and you will realize that cost has nothing to do with it. The reality is that people have never paid for television shows and it’s going to be very hard to get them to do so.

Ok, so technically one might pay for cable TV service but as far as usage is concerned that simply doesn’t translate to paying for a TV show. Think about your Internet connection. You pay a flat rate per month for it but it feels free when you browse CNN.com for the latest news. The same is true for people who are watching Anderson Cooper on TV. It feels free.

Expecting people to start paying for something has has historically been free, while not impossible1, is a very difficult thing to do. I don’t think TV studios appreciate this reality. They expect people to pay handsomely for their “unique” content while continuing to put up with their ads, DRM2 and condescending attitude.

Premium channels like HBO & Showtime are an exception to this however. People are accustomed to paying for those channels. I suspect there are even people who pay for those channels for the sole purpose of watching one or two of the original shows they produce. It’s too bad they are still forcing customers to subscribe via the old cable TV model before allowing them to watch their content online. I haven’t paid for cable TV in 10 years and would love to see an HBO app on my AppleTV where I could subscribe to the shows I like.

The only other way that I can imagine seeing a market shift would be for independent producers to take matters into their own hands and start producing content with a direct to consumer model. The past decade has seen some pretty dramatic shifts that portend a future where the studios are no longer needed. Red Camera now has a digital camera that you can own for what it once cost to rent a comparable camera for a single day. At the same time computer hardware and software have brought high quality special effects within reach of low budget productions. I was shocked, for example, when I found out the 2004 movie Primer was done on a $7,000 budget.

So hope is not lost unless you are a TV studio executive. Much like the record industry their stranglehold on the market is starting to loosen. They know it and it won’t be long before we do too.

  1. bottled water anyone []
  2. Digital Rights Management that make it hard to watch the content you paid for on the devices you own. It’s the kind of thing that actually encourages piracy because when you pirate the content you don’t have to deal with DRM []


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