CBS: One dollar per show for on demand TV

It’s time to punch a hole in the belief that over-the-air television is free.

The Los Angeles Times reports on how broadcasters are searching for ways to have the public pay for their so-called free television. In the wake of ad-skipping made possible through DVRs, the networks want to know whether viewers can be persuaded to help pay for programming that they’re now getting free.

Many executives believe the networks’ very survival depends on viewers accepting what some might see as a radical idea: that the audience, not just advertisers, must subsidize the high cost of producing the shows that so many Americans love to watch. If they don’t, executives say, the networks won’t have the money to produce expensive shows.
A study being released today by CBS reveals that people are willing to pay a dollar to view a favorite show “on demand.” This is interesting stuff, but it all flows from that mistaken belief that that what we now have is “free.” It isn’t. Cable penetration is such that most people feel they’re already paying for network TV, but that’s only a surface observation.

There are many types of currency, and one of them is time. Time is the real currency of “free” television. We give them our time to watch a little programming between all the commercial messages. One-third of prime time is now taken up with promotional announcements of one form or another. One-third! The networks blew their deal with viewers when it presumed the right to take viewers’ time without compensating them for it with quality programming. I honestly don’t think people would ad skip if commercial breaks were a minute long. I’ve actually timed some breaks at 6 minutes. Who wants to sit through that?

I agree the networks need something to make the transition to an on-demand world attractive, because that’s where we’re heading. However, broadcasters need to stop blaming their audiences for their woes. The disruptive — and audience-serving — innovations that threaten TV didn’t just happen by chance. There’s a real demand for this stuff, because people are tired of giving away their time.

A dollar a show? We’ll see.


  1. TV and radio broadcasters brought trouble on themselves when the government lifted the limits on commercials. In addition to your observation that people aren’t willing to sit through long breaks, each message loses value when it’s surrounded by half-a-dozen or more other spots.

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