Thursday, April 26, 2012

Hostage of a Broken Delivery System

I enjoy 30 Rock.  In fact, other than live sports, it is the only TV show that is "appointment viewing" for me.

Of course, by "appointment viewing" I don't mean that I clear my schedule at 7:30 pm every Thursday night in order to watch it.  I mean that I have my DVR programmed to record it every week.  Since this is a show for grown-ups, and my elementary school-age kids are typically up at this time, I don't watch it at then, but at another time when only grown-up eyes are open at our house.

And therein lies the problem.  Because I am watching the show on DVR, I can fast forward through the ads, and usually do.  Selling ads is how people make money from producing and watching the show, and my typical viewing habit severely limits their effectiveness.

Seeing that the show is a favorite of relatively affluent educated people like myself, this behavior likely fairly typical even among the show's dwindling viewer base.

Then, add in the economics of the affiliate-network relationship.  I'm not a particular expert on the particulars, but my understanding of the gist is that when an affiliate airs network programs, the network gets most of the ad revenue, but when the affiliate airs locally produced programming, they get all the ad revenue.  Hence the proliferation of local news shows around the clock that nobody asked for.

Given, that, which is a better use of KSDK's limited resource of prime time programming?

  1. Pick up the network's broadcast of 30 Rock, so that people like me can record it and then fast forward through the ads, and the network can get most of what little ad revenue there is.
  2. Run some locally produced fluff piece and collect the ad revenue for that, while also increasing the exposure of your local talent.  Run 30 Rock in the middle of the night later so that those who want to DVR it can do so.
It seems pretty clear the answer is #2, which is what KSDK chose last week.  The only downside is ticking off people like me (who, let's remember, are essentially freeloading, though I am also relatively savvy with social media and can use it to amplify my complaints), and probably damaging their relationship with NBC.

Which creates an inconvenience for me, since I have to reprogram my DVR to record it at the midnight time, and have to wait until then to watch, or I could find it online.  Yes, this seems like it could be the canonical example of a #FirstWorldProblem, but it would be better if it weren't the case.  I would be willing to pay a nominal amount of money (probably less than $5) to avoid this.  But I can't KSDK can only make one choice.  That's why they call it "broadcasting"

Still, there's is a sense where KSDK is kind of breaking its contract with me.  They are the exclusive providers of NBC network entertainment in the St. Louis area, and they are withholding a portion of that content (indeed the only part I am terribly interested in).  That's a bad outcome.

So, what other options do we have?  The show Arrested Development faced a similar problem years ago -- a small but affluent and committed viewer base, in an era where DVR's were not as ubiqutous as they are now.   Eventually the narrowness of its fan base became more important than its intensity, and the show was cancelled after 2 1/2 seasons.

But wait! Now there will be 10 more episodes of Arrested Development to be released direct to Netflix. Perhaps this is the way forward for shows with limited but intense appeal.  Having access to things like an extra season of Arrested Developement certainly makes the < $10 a month subscription to Netflix more enticing.