I despise commercials. On TV, the radio, or some other format, I resent their existence. Some of them are amusing the first time you see them, but they quickly become overplayed and obnoxious. More than just the individual commercial, I especially despise commercial breaks, when we’re subjected to five, six, or more of these tedious ads in rapid succession. I mute the TV, leave the room to get a drink, or do some other activity to avoid watching them. In other words, their objective—selling me something—is not being achieved.
TV shows live and die by their ratings, compiled by Nielsen Media Research (“the Nielsens”). These numbers boil down to a certain number of viewers for a given show, and also what percentage of all viewers in that time slot were watching that particular show. For networks (and shows), higher Nielsens are good, because it means more people are watching the advertisements, more advertisers will have their products seen, and thus will continue financially supporting the show.
This, to me, has always been a stupid business model. It places shows at the mercy of advertiser’s whims. Technically speaking, cable TV is completely unregulated. They can show whatever they want: horrid vivisection, full-on nudity, copious vulgar language. But they don’t. Why? ’cause they don’t want to turn away advertisers reluctant to support a show containing those elements.
So, in short, we have an entertainment system funded and censored by people with no creative interest in the product, and who achieve their support by annoying viewers.
Does anyone else think this is ridiculous?
I think we should do show-based subscriptions. You only get the content you subscribe to, you only pay for that content, and there are no ads. The money goes directly to the “bank account” of that particular show to fund future endeavors. There are no “networks” in this world. There are no advertisers. There’s you, the cable company (which holds the repository of shows), and the creators. (Promotion of new shows would be a potential issue under this system; not a problem I’ve thought through.)
Let’s use the example of Firefly, the series beloved by many but ultimately canceled because the network (FOX) continually shuffled its timeslot, preempted it for baseball, ran the series out of order, and so forth. I can’t find a list of the ratings for each episode that aired, but I do know that the first episode had a 4.1/8 rating, meaning 4.1 million viewers watched it. Suppose the subscription cost for a show was $1.99 (the cost of a song on iTunes) per episode and further assume that the cable company gets the change portion. That’s $4.1 million in the bank for the show, or basically enough to pay for that one episode. (This is technically true, but not practically true. The pilot episode cost $10 million; the first aired episode, however, was not the pilot, and cost $3-$4 million.)
This is using dirt-simple, ultra-basic hypothetical numbers. I’m sure television accountants could cook up a better, more-sustainable number. Crank up the cost for shows with higher viewership, until they stop watching (American Idol, anyone?) and allow the actual viewership revenue to dictate how much money a show can spend.
The downside to losing both networks and ad revenue is that you need start-up capital from somewhere. I imagine this is where something like product-placement enters the picture. For shows where this is impractical, perhaps a small, static, and soundless ad in the bottom right of the screen every so often (much like networks now emblazon their logo on the screen at all times).
(This entire rant was prompted, rather paradoxically, by the news that Hulu is switching to subscriber-only model in 2010.)