Sunday, January 1, 2012

Would you pay to keep your favorite shows on the air?

As the new year begins we find ourselves reaching that point in the TV year known as Mid Season. For some shows that started late, this is the time they will be airing the rest of their initial pickup. That is if they are still around. This year has seen several shows flame out in only a handful of episodes (Playboy Club, Charlie's Angels etc) . And some that have aired their full 13 episode first run weren't picked up for a 'back 9' and have no real clue if they will get a second season (Terra Nova for example).
Where there are cancellations or hints of cancellation, there are fan campaigns with petitions, letter writing etc. And they generally all have the same theme -- the ratings don't show the whole picture. The notion is that Nielsen Media is under sampling and thus their numbers are rarely correct. And given that only something like 25 thousand of 110 million tv households are counted for any kind of viewing, the notion makes sense. This isn't like flipping a coin after all. These are people's tastes and not every African American Male between the ages of 25 and 30 that makes less than $50k a year is going to have the same taste in tv shows. But it feels a lot like that is what Nielsen is claiming.

The real issue that comes up is that the networks use the ratings to decide on ad rates and if a show fails to meet what they promise then they have to make good on the failure. Most of the time this means giving away free ad time but sometimes networks actually give back cash, such as during the writers strike a couple of years ago. This results in the show not covering its budget and thus it's cancelled. 

Now on the surface this makes sense. If a show isn't paying for itself or at least close and rising, then from a business point of view it should be called. But when millions are viewers have no say because they aren't being counted, that business decision stings. A lot. Thus the campaigns. 

But what if there was a way to cast a vote. To literally put your money where your mouth is. What if the networks announced they were going to count legal purchases like iTunes in a show's budget recovery. Such moves could perhaps pick up the slack on lost money from the ratings (although a sample increase to more like 500k wouldn't hurt either) and give a reason for casual torrent users to reconsider doing so since using legal means might keep a favorite show on the air. 

There are some other issues like the video quality etc but I feel rather confident that Apple at least is working on them. The recent addition of 'Complete My Season' even on a small scale is a step in the right direction. With all the rumors that Apple is up to something on the TV front, I suspect we're going to see even more changes over the next few months, hopefully including more shows coming in both 640p and 720p (what iTunes calls SD and HD formats) as well as 1080p (although at a fraction of the bit rate for Blu-ray to avoid having 30GB per episode sizes). Other wish list items for me would be closed captioning being standard, all shows appearing on line within a week of the over the air viewing even for cable shows and more features perhaps with some kind of iTunes Extras option (and that option working on both computers and iOS devices).

So the question of the day remains, would you be willing to pay for your shows if it would keep them on the air. I would even now, although with my plans to get an bigger TV, that 1080p size would be preferred (along with knocking a buck off the episode prices and making 1080p the $2.99 choice). In fact, there are several shows that I'm already buying since dumping all cable but broadcast. 

And what shows are those. Well I'll tell you. Some of them you may be watching also, some you might just be curious about. Some you may think I'm crazy for watching but hey no one said you have to share my tastes anymore than I have to share yours. But if there's something not on my list that you think I should check out, speak up. I'm always game to check out something new. 

My current buying list:

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