Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Thoughts on television

In answer to a question on Blackboard about why commercial networks aren't looking at simultaneous downloading, I posted this:

My husband has a background in TV so I grilled him about this.  What I got from said grilling is that basically, the main barrier to simultaneous broadcasting is all commercial and it's quite complicated.  To break it down a bit (and I hope I got this right, and apologies for the length of the post!):

- There is a distinction between a broadcaster and the owner of a show.  For instance, CBS in the US may commission Jerry Bruckheimer to make a show (like CSI) and it's not CBS's show to sell, it's Bruckheimer's, and it may be HIM making the deal to sell it on to another country's TV network.  However, sometimes the deal IS made by CBS or NBC, but these deals can become quite complicated and may involve clauses such as having to buy 5 shows, and show A, B and C before they're allowed to show D, or "can't show this until x days after US release".  These deals can take a while to work out, as they are worked out on a per-country (or per-network) basis.

- Australian TV networks (ALL TV networks) are commercial entities - they buy a show and then sell advertising slots to help cover the cost of the show they have bought.  So if we watch a show via a download and not via a TV broadcast, the end result is a loss of advertising dollars to that network.

- While a lot of us doing Internet Communications know how to download bittorrents, at the moment broadcast TV is still the main way that a majority of the population view TV shows.  The reality is that it is easier and more cost effective for the commercial networks to cater to a majority and simultaneously do things in a way that suits THEM best, not the individual.  Until more users start downloading and hitting their hip pockets, this isn't likely to change much.  My husband's answer to the question "why can't they do it?" is basically - "they can - but it's not in their interest to do it right now".

- Australian TV networks also influence distribution - they want to show top-rating shows during ratings periods, to get the biggest bang for their buck.  The US ratings season is the opposite of ours - their top shows start in their autumn as school starts, which is when our ratings are winding down for summer.  Traditionally the Australian networks "kept" the good shows to use at the start of our school year, so as to get the best ratings.  The numbers of viewers drop off during summer, with holidays, daylight savings, etc.  As well, they play games with each other, and with us.  Ever noticed how some nights there are a bunch of good shows all on at the same time?  The networks play games, trying to get the highest ratings and therefore the highest revenue.  Sometimes they'll hold back their best show and concede the ratings for that slot to another network, and put their best show on at a different time when there's no competition.  Often they show repeats but don't tell the viewer that they're repeats, so we tune in and *bang*, another rating point for them.  Very sneaky. :>

- Australian TV networks used to watch the US shows and see what was rating well there before buying it for screening here.  So arguably what we used to get was the "best of" from the US.  If it flopped there, chances are we never even saw it or if we did, it was as part of a package deal that was shown in the off-ratings season.

- Sometimes, it can be cheaper for Australian networks to buy shows that are a bit older, so they wait a while.  In recent times, the networks have taken some risks on brand-new shows and bought them before US screening, at arguably a cheaper price.  That's why some shows disappear really quickly nowadays.

I personally think that TV show/video downloads will probably follow a similar path to music downloads.  First they had Napster, then once enough people used it enough to impact the music industry's hip pockets, all the digital rights management stuff appeared and eventually it got a lot harder to download music illegally, and a lot easier to download it legally (Itunes etc).  Then the commercial entities could still make their money, and everyone was happy. :>

Cheers,
Nicky
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