Lorne Manly and John Markoff and the New York Times have done the broadcast industry a service with their insightful article, Steal This Show. It covers the spectrum of issues programmers and producers face in an “I want what I want when I want it” world and is a must read for those who follow such things.
While exploring the world of downloaded TV programs, the article does more than simply preach or parrot the M.P.A.A. and other advocacy groups, and I found this refreshing.
Not surprisingly, the repercussions – particularly the rapidly growing number of shows available for the plucking online – terrify industry executives, who remember only too well what Napster and other file-sharing programs did to the music industry. They fret that if unchecked, rampant trading of files will threaten the riches of the relatively new and surprisingly lucrative television DVD business. It could endanger sales of television shows to international markets and into syndication. And it could further endanger what for the past 50 years has been television’s economic linchpin: the 30-second commercial.
Ultimately, whether the television industry can avoid the disruptive fury that sideswiped the music industry – and even find lucrative ways to benefit from a digital, broadband, interconnected and portable entertainment world – will depend on how fast and flexible the conglomerates are in meeting viewers’ changing desires.
It will also depend on understanding the motivation behind this flurry of new activity. It’s not just the thrill of the illicit, like lighting up behind a Kroger’s in high school. That is “woefully inadequate to describe why millions of people steal,” said Mr. Garland of Big Champagne, the online media measurement company. “People aren’t essentially lawless. It takes far more motivation than that.”
A further CBS study gave viewers the chance to build their own night of television, where they could choose among a select group of pay-per-view shows in addition to the regular schedule of free programming that night. More than half of the 211 respondents chose to pay extra for at least one show. “This is the way people want television delivered,” Mr. Poltrack said.
Before this video-on-demand vision materializes, a bewildering thicket of contract and revenue-sharing issues among the producers, programmers and distributors of television must be overcome.
Nonetheless, executives understand that they have little alternative but to push ahead. Chasing after the people trafficking in television programming can do only so much good.