Thursday, June 26, 2014

How the Commercial Networks Miss the Mark, a hastily written rant

I recently changed the service that provides me with television channels. I switched from Dish to a new fiber optic service provided by our local city (Opelika, AL). The charge for the DVR was a bit high per month and at first I decided to see what it was like without a DVR or any means to record. I looked into going back to TiVo but unfortunately the type of transmission over fiber optics does not work with TiVo for some technical reasons.

I have not been without a means of recording and playback since the very first year that VCRs came out. I formed some opinions.

The first thing I noticed was that fiber optic HD is the bomb. We live in an area that makes it very difficult to get any over the air signals,  some of which are supposedly broadcasting with full HD quality. The only full quality I have seen is from Blu-Ray discs. I am not sure whether the HD provided by my local city throught fiber optics is full quality, but it is much much better than Dish.

Television commercials were not as annoying when they were popping out of the screen with beautiful reception. However the novelty wore off quickly. I decided to go ahead and pop for a DVR long before my experimentation was over.

We also watch Netflix, and up until the time Amazon raised their Amazon Prime price a whopping 20 dollars a year in one blow, we were watching that as well. Amazon added very little value to Netflix and while we enjoyed the free shipping, more and more items were non-prime from third parties and Amazon add-ons that had to be added to other orders. It became more complicated, and more expensive.

The most important opinion I have formed is that commercial networks, whether broadcast or cable, and the companies that package them are in danger of missing a key concept that could easily bury them. The growth of Netflix is huge from that moment when they were raising prices and got such bad press. Well, of course they got bad press. The networks and other corporate media have used their news departments for self help for a while. Disney advertises their offerings as news on the morning shows and recently NBC ran "news" segments on Universal Studio Theme Parks with no disclosure at all that they were hyping their own company.

Since the time when Netflix was so openly ridiculed they have steadily worked their way back, not due to major changes but on the strength of their business model alone.

If VCRs caused repercussions to commercial programming, which they did, DVRs have really decimated the landscape. The trend was the same when the music industry was hurt so badly by cassette tape recording in the beginning and then computers (digital, like DVRs) towards the end. Admittedly, the music industry depended on selling product so was more quickly done in.

Netflix, and what probably is worse in the long run, Internet piracy, has had to have a great effect on broadcast networks. When I was young, I had no idea that there would ever be a point that commercials could be shown during the show. Networks have constant logos, they have flying graphics across the bottom of the screen. It is constantly annoying and even with a DVR one is getting much less of an experience than watching the show on Netflix.

Netflix's only problem is in basically showing reruns. But oddly, I think this problem is also it's strength as long as it maintains a growth in subscriber levels. For a little while there, I thought Netflix might actually be encouraging the sharing of subscriptions. The real deal is, if you get used to Netflix, you can see easily where the networks fail.

The on demand model  and depth of the offerings is unparalleled. Netflix has built great suggestive software that learns what you like. Max, a character that talks to you, can help you pick out movies and television. When you find a television series you like you can see it from the beginning. You can research that series and find out whether it was canceled midseason by the endlessly fickle networks. This at least can soften the blow of dangling plot lines.

Here is what I have decided. I really don't want to start any network shows and have them fizzle before their time. The broadcast networks have a dismal record and producers cannot present the best overall story arch when they have no idea what the whims of the network will be. I don't want to watch a series up to a point, then wait for the next season. I want to be able to watch things over again, immediately.  I don't want to have to set up a DVR timer to get the shows I like to watch. I want no commercials displayed on the bottom of the screen and I don't really want a network logo. I don't want to see commercials that tell me what is going to happen in an episode. I don't want shows that begin 3 minutes after the hour and fool my DVR. I don't want sports or event programming to delay shows to fool my DVR. I don't want tornado warnings and weather alerts across the bottom of the screen on the shows I have recorded. I don't want the local affiliates to make a mistake and trip over a wire to cause a break in the program. I don't want gigantic show ratings to be superimposed at the beginning of the shows. It is endless, really. There just is no quality in the presentation of quality shows.

I can put it in one sentence: I want my TV shows to be perfect, like they are on Netflix. Can anything say more damning about the networks' strategy than this?

I do want the networks to continue pouring money into programming to broaden my choices. I want them to think that their commercials are being watched. I want this because I will want to watch the product later when Netflix grabs them and shows them in a way I like. That is all I want from networks at this point.

The problem that occurred in the music industry was that people with the equipment and the smarts to record music disappeared from the audience base. The audience left behind was less sophisticated. It skewed younger and older, but it also skewed to providing less quality music because the market for quality was cheating.

The huge problem with networks is not only that their advertising model is shot to hell because of people skipping commercials, it is the abysmal way the networks present their shows, and cancel their shows of quality.