Geoffrey Long
Tip of the Quill: Archives
iTunes Network Ratings Boost and the State of IPTV
Good news for those of us living in the 21st century! NBC is crediting the iTunes Store with boosting their ratings:
NBC's "The Office" delivered a 5.1-its highest ratings ever-last Thursday among adults 18 to 49, a bump the network credits in large part to the show's popularity as an iPod download. In fact, the series is NBC's top-performing video podcast available on Apple's iTunes, where it has been available since Dec. 6. Such a connection between podcast success and broadcast ratings success is particularly significant because the NBC data is among the first available evidence of what network executives have been gambling on when striking their new media deals-that the new video platforms are additive because they provide more entry points into a show for consumers.
I've been relatively silent on the IPTV front lately because, to be honest, my primary feeling on the matter right now isn't excitement but fear. Right now both the IPTV and portable video markets are suffering from serious overfragmentation. The iTunes store proved that downloaded music is an extremely viable business model because they managed to get almost every record company on board. Sure, there are still some holdouts, but for the most part whenever I'm struck with the urge to hear new music from popular artists like U2 or obscure and underrated artists like Great Big Sea or Eddie from Ohio I can pop on there and $.99 to ten bucks later I'm a happy customer. Alas, not so with the video market. Not only is each network offering up only a paltry few shows for downloading, but with so many competitors jumping into the space all at once and each staking out an exclusive claim on different shows, it's getting almost impossible to be an IPTV or mobile video enthusiast. My weekly dedicated TV diet consists of Stargate SG-1, Stargate Atlantis, The West Wing, Mythbusters, 24, and House. (No emails about how I should be watching Battlestar Galactica or Lost, please – I'm plowing through both shows on DVD whenever I get a chance.) None of these are available yet on the iTunes store, and very few are available anywhere else. Even if I wanted to extend my media diet to shows like How I Met Your Mother and Desperate Housewives, then I would have to use iTunes for one and Yahoo! for the other. Extend this to the one show I watch that did make early moves into the mobile space, 24, and I'd have to switch cellphone providers just to pay more money to watch a halfhearted mobisode spinoff of the show! People, this is dumb. My forecast for 2006: media pundits will turn on mobile TV and bemoan how few people use it, completely ignoring the massive barriers to entry that are being thrown up between the fans and the content they want. Imagine if Ben and Jerry's tried to branch out into a new soy-based ice cream, but only offered three obscure flavors or made their customers switch from VISA to MasterCard in order to get the new soy version of Chubby Hubby – then cancelled the line because of "low customer interest." To overextend this analogy, imagine if a third party then began providing a DIY soy ice cream maker and people began posting recipes on the Internet using materials from your local grocery store. That ice cream maker? That's BitTorrent, and I for one am discovering the joys of DIY Phish Food. I don't like having to make it myself, and I'd happily pony up the cash to get it otherwise, but it's the only way I can get exactly what I want exactly when I want it. People like Chris Thilk at TVSquad are already making snarky comments like "I think it's more than a little funny that people are turning to the shows on TV after trying them out on iTunes. After all, you pay $1.99 a pop on iTunes to "try" an episode that, if you had watched it when it was aired, would have cost you nothing." This is an excellent example of blatantly missing the point – people like me downloaded music from Napster because we couldn't get exactly what we wanted exactly when we wanted it anywhere else. You can't find Eddie from Ohio or Great Big Sea in Wal-Mart, and the number of times I failed to find an obscure album in even megastores like Virgin or Tower Records was ridiculous – and never mind the number of times the store was closed because it was 4AM on a Sunday morning. Those problems are gone with the iTunes store for music, and when the TV companies really get their stuff together and all provide all their shows on one unified service the IPTV and mobile video markets will explode. I watched The Night Stalker on iTunes (it stunk, but it wasn't a category-killer) and I'd happily give other obscure shows a chance at random times whenever I have a free minute, but I'm not going to TiVo something randomly. If the TiVo recommends and downloads Supernatural for me, fine – but you won't see a dime of that money, and chances are good that it won't. So why not put Supernatural on the iTunes store and let me throw you two bucks for the ability to watch it at 4AM on Sunday morning? We've said it over and over again here at C3, I've said it twice already in this post, and now I invite you to say it with me at home: people want exactly what they want exatly when they want it – and when the property owners refuse to give it to them they lose out on revenue, generate resentment from the fans and drive them to illegal alternatives. This isn't just fans! This is a whole nation of causal viewers for whom it is impossible to schedule their lives around a silly TV schedule but find themselves with bizarre little pockets of time (like 4AM on a Sunday) they want to fill with something interesting. Pick whatever metaphor you want – whether it's a peasant killing deer on the king's land or freezing up your own batch of soy Coffee! Coffee! Buzz! Buzz! Buzz!, I don't care. The bottom line is this: a huge market opportunity is being wasted in Hollywood, most of us would-be viewers already use a working model every time we buy music, and we demand to know why Hollywood is wasting time. So there it is in a nutshell. I fear for the IPTV and mobile video market, but if there are any Hollywood execs reading this post, please – I beseech you. Make your big 2006 New Year's resolution to make me, on 4AM on Sunday, January 7th 2007, just two bucks and one click away from watching Stargate on my computer, my cell phone, or my video iPod. I'll be here waiting with my pint of Cherry Garcia.
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