About a month ago there was an article in The Sunday Star Times entitled “How broadcasters lost control of screens”. I spent about half an hour talking to a journalist about television, the new SkyNet law and the current and future states of television in New Zealand.
There were a number of things from my discussion that never made that story and there were some other points raised by others quoted in the article that I wanted to address.
The article highlighted the arrival of Sky’s new premium content channel SoHo: a fast-tracked smorgasboard of the latest shows from US cable channel HBO. For an extra $9.99 on top of your existing monthly Sky TV bill, you’ll be able to watch shows within days, if not hours, of their US premier.
This is a bit of a coup for Sky as typically HBO haven’t allowed their series to be broadcast outside of the US until their season is complete. However, I’m not really that enamoured by this new channel in the same way Sky’s head of programming Travis Dunbar is.
HBO and other cable channels typically produce shows with cult followings. They exist for the passionate fans who love to watch and talk about every aspect of the story and characters. If they can’t watch an episode live, they avoid the internet until they’ve managed to catch up with their PVR or on-demand service so that nothing gets spoiled. That’s a fairly easy thing to do for a few hours but not for much longer. Delays just don’t work for hardcore fans.
TVNZ’s Rick Ellis doesn’t seem to care about hardcore fans though. His comment was rather telling:
Rick Ellis, chief executive of state broadcaster TVNZ, agrees there’s a trend toward getting foreign shows here faster, but although “a small number” of TV aficionados will download out of impatience, the “vast majority” of viewers are still happy with “linear” viewing – a fancy word for switching on a telly and watching shows in the order a programmer ordained.
That “small number” of people are the early adopters, advocates and evangelists for shows his network holds the rights to, talked about in The Tipping Point.
Our fast tracked record is appalling. Running Throng in a number of countries we get to see just how quickly shows are being sped to viewers. Australia broadcasts a number of shows within hours of their US debut.
The best example is that of American Idol. Pay channel Fox 8 broadcast the grand finale of the show this year live at 10am and then repeated it that evening in prime time. For those fans who wanted to see who would win the most watched TV show in America, they could do it live. Outstanding. For those who were at work or couldn’t watch it live, they could get home and watch it straight away if they’d recorded it or wait for the delayed broadcast. Either way, good news.
In New Zealand, you could have watched it live via one of the many online streaming sites. Sure, the quality isn’t HD but it’s about being there and watching history unfold.
Why can’t broadcasters do something similar here with streaming? For those who want to watch an episode now, why not let them if you own the rights to it? If someone wanted to watch the season finale of the final season of Desperate Housewives or Grey’s Anatomy, why couldn’t TVNZ provide a service where you could live stream the episode for those fans who would otherwise download or watch it elsewhere? Isn’t there some money to be made off such fans? Is it too difficult or just laziness that something like this couldn’t be done?
Perhaps TVNZ could provide a new premium channel on Sky (since that seems to be what they’re into these days) that provides live broadcasts of US shows so that those who want to, can watch them without having to “break the law”. Too hard or just don’t care?
It seems to me that TVNZ and broadcasters in general are completely complacent when it comes to providing viewers what they want. They’ll spout off about increased viewer numbers and more people watching shows on demand while ignoring all the global publicity and news about the latest hit shows. I find that incredible.
Thankfully, TV3 have caught a glimpse of the light and are screening The X Factor USA within a few hours. But what about everything else? The final season of House has just started. How long must we wait for that?
There are real solutions that would prove to their viewers that these companies respect and value them. However, how long we have to wait to see which off them will actually grow a pair is anyone’s guess.