Tuesday, December 29, 2009

You Want How Much? Or, is Free TV Going to Die?

Wow. Just read this article sent to me by my good friend Alan, about how our free braodcast television services may be marching towards a pay model like cable television. Not that such things matter to me; we don't watch broadcast TV or have cable TV in the home, so it doesn't really matter how much they make people pay for it. But when they start charging for the crud we watch on the Internet, that's when we'll stand up and take notice.

It's all going to come to this: The traditional models for distributing and paying for content is fundamentally changing, thanks to the Internet. But, thanks to the Internet, the "everything is free" mentality is the one that reigns, even though we pay ISPs for access. Outfits such as the cable companies are lucky in that, from the beginning, they've trained us to expect to have to pay. One of the models proposed for fixing what ails traditional media is to make ISPs pay for content, thus making Internet surfers pay much more for access. We may see the time when the cost of our Internet service is not based on bandwidth, but on the types of content we want to gain from our Internet access. Is that any better than the trickle-torture proposed by making us pay for each and every site we want to visit? I don't know. It kinda works for cable -- they charge extra for premium channels.

It's a sticky situation. One I see working now on the net is a certain level of free access, followed by an expanded level of access for which people pay. That's the model being explored by the likes of YouTube and Hulu, and Murdoch's NewsCorp, and is already being used to some extent by a wide variety of entities from Comics.com (where I go daily to read my funnies) to Fark.com. Both allow free access, but for other features -- and I'm not sure what they are because for now I'm content with the free stuff being offered -- folks have to pony up a small monthly or yearly charge for access.

But that route is fraught with peril as well. How do you determine how much to make people pay? Try to squeeze too much and you chase away the people you want coming to your site to build up your eyeball numbers. And maybe that's an old-fashioned way of thinking. I'd really love to see companies like Flickr and such, who are using this tiered approach, open up and talk about how much the services are really costing, and how much they're able to pay their expenses with the fees they're charging. So many other things on the Internet are open-source, it's too bad a good financial model seems to be behind that knowledge wall.

Another route -- do like the BBC, and don't charge for access. But levy a tax on every television set a family owns, and use that revenue to pay for broadcasting, programming and such. I don't see that one going over all that well on this side of the Atlantic. I know it would seriously cause us to chuck some of the many, many TVs we have in the house, and, if they did the same thing for computers, make us reconsider how they're used in the home as well. And since that kind of taxation stomples on Freedom, Mother, Apple Pie and the American way, I think the vast majority of folks here would take a "you can tax my TV set when you can pry it out of my cold, dead hands" kind of attitude. But we might be willing -- and in fact, are willing -- to pay already ridiculous fees for services such as cable TV or cell phones. I used to work for a Baby Bell, and I can tell you, one of the biggest money sinks out there that people just roll over and pay for the most part is the cell phone. I'm stoggered at remembering handling bills for $300, $500 a month, consistently, from families who just paid it. Five hundred a month is almost what I pay for my house, folks. No way you'll get that out of me for a stinking cell phone service.

My hands smell like turkey. I've been making enchiladas from Boxing Day leftovers. I should go wash my hands.

How much would people pay for that non sequitur? Probably not much, eh?

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