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NBC Wants You to Pay for iPad TV, Dammit (They Won't Be the Only Ones)

Illustration for article titled NBC Wants You to Pay for iPad TV, Dammit (They Wont Be the Only Ones)

Even though NBC showed off an iPad version of its site with awesome full-episode streaming of shows like The Office—and ABC and CBS are busy showing off their own iPad video—NBC's decided to block iPad streaming for now.

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The decision apparently happened in the last couple of days, and while it seems strange on the surface—why promote iPad superpowers only to neuter them? And why retreat when they competition is going full bore with free iPad video? It's actually pretty logical: They want you to pay for TV on the iPad.

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If the iPad's going to be your next TV—well, one of them—the last thing networks and studios want you to get used to is free TV. The economics of Hulu show why. Yes, Hulu's finally profitable, yes, but it's not pulling in money at a level that the networks are really happy with, and certainly nothing commensurate with actual broadcast revenues. They want more money. They need more money, if this is really the future of TV, because high quality TV like Mad Men or the Sopranos, well, it's expensive to produce—millions an episode. Which is why there's much talk about a Hulu subscription service, and why the so-close-you-can-taste-it iPad app would just be the start of new ways to make more money off of this new TV.

So, enjoy the free TV some are producing as an exuberant celebration and tech demo of a possibly new medium. It probably won't last, especially if it blows up. At the very least, get ready to watch a lot of ads that you won't be able to skip. [NYT]

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DISCUSSION

"...because high quality TV like Mad Men or the Sopranos, well, it's expensive to produce..." Yes, and it's exactly the sort of thing NBC is not in a position to do, regardless of cost. If NBC really wants people to start looking at the value of what shows they watch, rather than simply watching ads, they'll end up shooting themselves in the foot. The more they get the consumer to connect the value of their own dollars to particular programs, the more they tear down the entire notion of the traditional network and whatever brand identity it may have.

If they really want us to pay x dollars per show, then it's companies like HBO who stand to gain. After all, their business model is built around customers paying $10 per month for a single good show every Sunday night (which show varies seasonally, but that is their basic model).

Or what about the next logical progression of that. What do networks really provide? Financing and distribution. If distribution is essentially a low cost that scales with views, then it's just a matter of finding upfront money. Why worry about ads? Why worry about the alchemy of quants in the programming department? None of that really matters any more if I'm handing over cash for my shows. Why not just find more conventional investment for tv projects? Something like an independent movie studio without the distribution worries. Yes, this would tend to favor prodution companies with big-name creative talent at the helm (e.g. shows from Steven Soderberg or David Milch's TV prodution companies rather than shows from Freemantle Entertainment), but is that really worse than the current system? Has anyone ever answered the question "What TV shows do you like?" with the answer "NBC Shows"? That doesn't even make sense as an answer. The brand isn't even built as an answer that question. On the other hand, people do answer "HBO shows" because we know what they mean by that.

If NBC follows this road, they'll be devolving power further away from themselves and pushing it closer to the creators. If a mid to large size production companes can keep a few decent projects going and have steady enough cash flow to absorb a few failures - and I think quite a few already can - then we'll continue to get our TV, just without the network jackasses taking their cut.

This seems very much like record companies a decade ago. They also threatened to take their ball away if they didn't get more money. Turns out, there's not less good music being made, just fewer record executives involved. And the world seems to be cool with that.