I haven’t been watching too much TV of late or going to the movies (I think the last movie I saw was SALMON FISHING IN YEMEN – good, btw, gotta love Emily Blunt), I’ve been summarily glued to my TV screen watching the NBA playoffs (they come to an end tonight, and then the Finals start on Tuesday). But it’s interesting to note that this is the main reason why I pay $100 a month for DirecTv – live sports. Can’t pirate “the game” as there is no torrent file for this form of entertainment.
With all the cable channels available, I find myself particularly watching only a couple of channels, but since I do have too many at my disposal, I do happen to find some other TV programming exciting and engaging after some treasure hunting on the on-screen guide. For example, while I can’t stomach watching the vast majority of unscripted/reality TV, I do watch Food Network a lot – “Iron Chef America” and ANYTHING with Giada De Laurentiis.
Is it too much to pay $100 a month for DirecTv? I do get HBO/Cinemax (which is like $12 extra), so I can watch the shows that grip me the most – it rotates, but there’s always something on HBO that I have to watch, so I can’t cancel the subscription (I’ve tried, but I keep bringing it back after like a month off at the most); whether it’s the incomparable and unprecedented “Game of Thrones”, the gaudy and bawdy “True Blood” (which is returning on June 10), some cool ass documentary (like the one of Roman Polanski) or a miniseries/original movie (Like “Mildred Pierce” or “Hemingway & Gellhorn”). TechCrunch ran a story on how much would you pay for HBO if you could get it as a stand alone subscription, like Netflix.
This got me thinking, why is there no true piecemeal entertainment package? Sure, sure, the cable companies aggregated tons of programming to amortize the cost of all the programming so it isn’t strictly ad-supported (and this isn’t a good model, in fact it’s a dying model that will probably die with a massive implosion that will make the music industry and the newspaper/magazine industry’s painful contraction seem like a sprained ankle; see this Business Insider article by Henry Blodget).
Most of the people that I know who don’t have cable, but consume a voracious amount of filmed entertainment don’t watch sports. And sports is THE live broadcast entertainment that I will pay for (I didn’t get the NBA League Pass this year, ‘cause of the shortened season, but I’ve gotten that in the past). I watch a lot of NBA basketball, NCAA basketball, NCAA football, the World Series and the Stanley Cup playoffs (now that it’s thankfully back on TV… on CNBC, no less! Go, Kings, go!).
That’s why I can justify paying the cable bill each month and the roughly $12 for HBO – essentially I’m paying $78 for live sports broadcasts and the DVR service (beats the logistics of video tape hands down), and to access the TV series I do watch on the Big 4 networks (“Hawaii 5-0”, “The Good Wife”, “Smash”, “Fringe”, “The Mentalist”) and the plethora of so-called “basic cable” shows (“Mad Men”, “Breaking Bad”, “Justified”, “Sons of Anarchy”, “Burn Notice”, “Suits”, “The Killing”). Would I be better off paying for a limited number of channels/programming options instead of subsidizing blasé shit I don’t watch like Fox News and OWN and Spike and Lifetime (although “The Client List” with Jennifer Love Hewitt could be a sordid guilty pleasure)? If so, how would it be priced?
I’m not a fan of Netflix Instant, because the programming options aren’t deep enough for me (in that I’ve seen too many movies and what I do want to see hasn’t been yet made available or the license expired and I’m on the bleeding edge of what’s current for nearly all the TV shows that I watch… although I do find the backlog of “Doctor Who” seasons cool — not that I have time to watch any of that though). It would be better for me to have Netflix Streaming and the DVD delivery package, too. But that puts me at $16/month on top of my $100 for DirecTV (with HBO and Cinemax). And I’m not watching that much more TV and/or movies to justify that additional expense (I mean the DVR hovers around 3 to 5% available free space as it is).
Licensing TV & film is obviously expensive, so lots of programming falls off of Netflix (or Amazon Prime streamed over the Kindle Fire) and many less popular (i.e. niche) programming disappears from the broader public, because it wasn’t carried by Blockbuster or some other video store in the first place, and everyone wants to get away from DVDs – as if physical media is an anathema.
I still have about 75 DVDs (I don’t think I’ve ever sold any, so I never had that many, although maybe a dozen have been stolen by Ex’s) and would purchase more had I the money and a Blu-Ray player… I like having a tangible library, so I can choose to watch what I want to watch whenever… same thing with books and CDs. I have a Kindle, but I’m not converting everything over to digital and selling my books or CDs… who knows what “format” will reign supreme in the next decade? And MP3s don’t sound that good (trust me on this, if you don’t believe me… and many of you won’t or don’t) and FLAC takes up too much HD space and is therefore a little unwieldy.
In a recent Vanity Fair article detailing HBO’s “The Newsroom” – Aaron Sorkin’s return to TV – it revealed that HBO’s “global cable-programing revenue was a whopping $4 billion!” So its business seems to be working out just fine without offering a “HBO Direct” (what I would call the HBO piecemeal subscription – you heard it here first). Yet, it again with $4 billion in annual revenue it begs the question about the piecemeal purchasability of HBO and/or other premium or non-premium entertainment. It also begs the question, does HBO get more of a slice of the Comcast or DirecTv or DISH pie than the $12 you pay for it?
Many people have been grumbling a lot lately that HBO “doesn’t want [their] money” since it doesn’t offer a service like HBO Direct, so one can’t watch the latest season of “Game of Thrones” (you could if you had HBO GO, but you have to have a cable or satellite subscription to access that content platform).
Hulu and Netflix have established a business model that essentially allows for a more customized viewing of the content that its customers want to see. But again, as I said, licensing is expensive and the fees will continue to rise as the 30-second commercial disappears (expect interruptions on all streaming services like you get on say ABC’s site or a forced reduction of screen size to accommodate constant ads & new marketing techniques in the future).
The alternative, as we all know, is piracy of content, which no one advocates except for those jackasses that shout at the top of their lungs that information needs to be free. Ok, sure, information should be free… but since when did private, proprietary intellectual property become “information”? It didn’t. And it isn’t.