Wednesday, May 03, 2006

On Demand In Debate

Some interesting back-and-forth between Robert Young and Mark Cuban over at Between the Lines about on-demand programming. Mark's argument centers. Also see Cuban's rejoinder in the comments.

Mark's argument essentially centers around audience inertia and that, in a linear programming world, people will tend to stay tuned to the same channel. The result? Much lower marketing costs compared to a non-linear model such as, for the most part, movies.

We are so used to being blasted with promos for new shows on the networks we watch, that we take it for granted. Its called selling to the people in the church advertising. If you are already in the pews, you are predisposed to like the next sermon and you are certainly a qualified audience to promote the next sermon to. The same applies to TV shows. If you are watching FX, you have an idea of what to expect , and you are the perfect consumer to advertise to.


Robert's rejoinder is that, in a world where the "distribution" of content is no longer limited to finite slices of time on a finite number of channels, who cares? Rather than carefully selecting the projects for a limited number of slots, let a thousand flowers bloom.

But what if programmers didn't have to take such high risks and they didn't have to choose that one from a pool of a hundred or a thousand. So instead of making that one big bet, what if they took the same development dollars and spread it out amongst a number of different projects. This is precisely what Internet TV will allow them to do… something they really couldn't do effectively and efficiently on broadcast TV.

I don't totally buy Mark Cuban's argument. There's no "Must See Thursday" any longer. And while DVRs such as TiVo remain a technology used mostly by an early adopter minority, the fragmentation of audiences across the cable spectrum and the increase in other entertainment choices have already made linear programming a less effective audience-retention strategy than it once was. Studios/networks/gatekeepers may well continue to have some value, but they're going to have to deal with a less linear space one way or another.

But Robert misses an important point, . It assumes that time slots are the only scarce resource. But they're not. Money is too. And it's at least as important. As Mark notes in his follow-up comment: "go to any downloadable content site. There are thousands upon thousands of shows, movies, videos, all produced hoping they would just capture back their costs. Few do... The thing about the gatekeepers in hollywood, if they say yes, they pay you . Most if not all of your costs. then they commit to spend a lot of money promoting you."

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