The future of entertainment
Last week, Fox shocked the world by making an amazingly intelligent decision: they It made every episode of its new scientific thriller, "Cosmos," available on its website for free. From now on, each episode of "Cosmos" will be available on FOX.com the day after it airs, in crystal-clear high definition and with only a few breaks for ads. This is momentous, not because it hasn’t been done before — CBS has been offering its content for free on its website on the same night that it airs for a while now, and "Cosmos" was actually available on streaming website Hulu.com before being made available on Fox — but because it represents an actual step forward in the relationship between one of the biggest network content producers and the consumer.
Making content available for free online may seem counterintuitive — after all, you can’t make very much money by offering something for free. But it lets consumers access content on their own schedules rather than being forced to tune in every night at a specific time, or having to make sure to set their DVRs.
Digital delivery is the future of entertainment. While the steps taken by networks like Fox and CBS are laudable, their delivery methods are also technologically weak, with spotty bandwidth and severe navigation issues that make back-tracking or fast-forwarding a true pain.
They are also riddled with ads that not only detract from the user’s experience, but are largely ineffective thanks to browser add-ons such as adblock. Even more aggravating is that the content is only available for a set period of time before it disappears, a ploy intended to encourage sales of overpriced home DVD collections but instead only encourages piracy. What is ultimately needed is a holistic digital delivery service that allows users to access content from any network, at any time, ad-free, for a modest fee. Almost like Netflix, but exclusively for television shows. Something like this does exist, in the form of the aforementioned Hulu.com. Like Netflix, Hulu is nearly ubiquitous.
It’s one of the best websites to view television programming on when you can’t catch it on the air. But it has its issues, chief among them being ads. Even subscribers to Hulu’s premium service Hulu Plus have to watch ads. Hulu is also not holistic — that is, it does not include content from every major cable company. But it’s hard to deny that Hulu is one of the greatest options for digital content delivery available at the moment. Consider iTunes, seen today as the savior of the music industry. Before Apple’s holistic digital delivery system, music piracy was rampant, and the music industry’s revenue had been all but decimated. Between 2004 and 2010, the music industry gained $4.6 billion in revenue — all of it from digital distribution. Today, music piracy is still rampant, but the music industry is far healthier. How many people do you know that actually purchase CDs these days? I’ll wager the number is quite low. Nearly everyone uses iTunes. Why? Because it’s quick, simple and cheap. Ninety-nine cents for a song (or $9.99 if you buy the entire album) sits perfectly with most consumers, and the fact that you can get your music quickly and safely makes it even better. Consider, also, music streaming websites such as Pandora. With 75 million subscribers, ads that are minimally intrusive (or no ads for just $4.99 per month), and an easy-to-navigate interface, Pandora has taken the music industry by storm.
The best part? The music industry is still making money. This is what the television industry needs. An easy to use, modestly priced, expansive library of content that can be delivered digitally in seconds. With such a system in place piracy would drop and viewer numbers would very likely increase.
In my dreams, I imagine a Jetsons-like future where I have one united service that I can log into. This service allows me to stream any song, movie, or television show instantly and with no ads. It’s priced at a modest $30 per month, a fair price for such a high level of convenience.
Unfortunately, that future is far away. Wildly popular services such as Netflix still struggle to get and keep content from certain providers. Always seeking to maximize profits, services such as HBO make their shows available to stream through their own providers, requiring a connection to their cable service to even gain access.
But that future is coming, and the sooner content creators come together and settle their differences, the faster we can get there.
Reach the columnist at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @sirshackofford
Editor's note: The opinion presented in this column is the author's and does not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.
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