Tag Archives: TV

A Good Way to Finance Entertainment?

The television industry is in trouble. For decades, broadcast television networks have made their money by buying content (shows) that people want to watch, and placing advertising within it so that the audience couldn’t help watching the ads – let’s face it, you don’t get up for a beer or bathroom break at EVERY commercial. Read More…

The television industry is in trouble. For decades, broadcast television networks have made their money by buying content (shows) that people want to watch, and placing advertising within it so that the audience couldn’t help watching the ads – let’s face it, you don’t get up for a beer or bathroom break at EVERY commercial.

The remote control was the first technology to put some power into the hands of consumers. When ads come on, people just zap over to some other channel, watch a few minutes of something else, and zap back when the ads are over. Or don’t zap back, because they got more interested in the other show.

Did the TV industry complain about the remote control when it came out? It undoubtedly detracted from ad viewing. Nowadays they scream about Tivo. This, for those not familiar, is an easy-to-use TV recorder. You can program it to record your favorite shows if you won’t be home to see them and, when you do get around to seeing them, it’s easy to skip forward every time you come to an ad. One friend of mine, even when he was home to watch the show at its scheduled time, would record it. He’d sit down to watch (from the beginning) about ten minutes into the show’s broadcast time, so that he could skip the ads even as the show was still being broadcast. You can do stuff like that with Tivo. It’s cool.

(NB: Tivo doesn’t exist in Italy and I wouldn’t bother if it did – nothing worth recording around here, and I don’t have time or inclination to watch that much TV anyway.)

As ads are reaching fewer and fewer TV viewers, advertisers have become less willing to pay premium prices for advertising slots, and more desperate to find other ways of reaching consumers with their “message.”

One solution is product placement: paying producers to showcase certain products in shows and movies, often very obtrusively. One product placement shot that leaped out at me was in “Jurassic Park,” when about 1/3 of the cinema screen was briefly occupied by a Macintosh computer. Although out of focus in the foreground, at that size the beige case and rainbow apple logo were unmistakable. In “Spiderman 2”, a fight takes place atop a truck barrelling down the streets of Manhattan. In spite of this scene taking place at night, the truck is so well-lit that the product name (beer) is practically spotlighted.

Producers will tell you that product placement is part of the financial package that helps pay for your entertainment. Product placement in television shows is currently illegal in Europe, but the European TV industry is trying to get this law struck down, on the grounds that it does nothing to protect the consumer (Europeans see a lot of American shows with placed products anyway), and unfairly hampers European producers in finding funding for native European shows.

I wonder, though: at what point is a show just one big ad? James Bond movies started to look like that somet time ago. Do some other movies, such as costume dramas and fantasies, NOT get made because they lack product placement opportunities? Perhaps extra funding is needed for these kinds of shows because they are unfairly hampered by the need for historical accuracy – Elizabeth and Darcy can’t be shown swigging down Pepsis.

 

Some More Thoughts on Television

a follow-up to How TV Could Make Money Distributing Shows Online Joss Whedon, the creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, has one last refuge on television this year: “Angel,” the Buffy spinoff, eagerly followed by fans of the “Buffyverse.” But not for long. The show has been cancelled by its broadcaster, the WB, as of the end Read More…

a follow-up to How TV Could Make Money Distributing Shows Online

Joss Whedon, the creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, has one last refuge on television this year: “Angel,” the Buffy spinoff, eagerly followed by fans of the “Buffyverse.” But not for long. The show has been cancelled by its broadcaster, the WB, as of the end of this season, its fifth.

Apparently this has to do with the economics of television. After a show has run five years, costs such as actor salaries go up, I guess by some automatic TV industry mechanism, causing the overall price of a show to rise, just about the time that its creative energy is often waning, running the risk of a more-expensive show attracting fewer viewers. This problem arose with “Buffy” three years ago. Reports are that, during contract negotiations about what would happen after the show’s fifth year, the WB refused to pay more than $1.8 million per episode, which wasn’t enough for Fox, the show’s producer. Rival broadcaster UPN offered $2.3 million per episode, for two years, and that was how Buffy ran to seven seasons.

The cancellation of “Angel” was announced a few weeks ago, to furious reaction from fans and media commentators. Thousands of fans worldwide are supporting “save the show” efforts, sending postcards and even raising money to run ads in industry papers such as Variety. All for naught, apparently. The most likely candidate to pick up the show would have been, again, UPN, but they have now officially declined, saying that they made a mistake to pick up “Buffy” so late in its life – they lost money on it.

I’m disappointed that “Angel” will end, but am mulling over how a change in television distribution, such as the one I fantasized about earlier, might save shows like this, whose millions of viewers are still not quite enough for a show to survive the economics of traditional broadcast television.

Some facts supporting my idea:

  • Many “Angel” fans worldwide already go to some trouble to download the show (illegally), because it is not shown where they live until months after its US airdate – or not at all.
  • Many (most?) of these fans then go on to buy the show on DVD as soon as available. The production companies don’t release sales figures for DVDs, but Angel Season 4 was released in the UK on Monday, and today it’s ranked among the ten top sellers on Amazon.co.uk (consider that most of us rabid fans pre-ordered it weeks or months ago, so are not counted in today’s sales figures).
  • Fox Filmed Entertainment, producers of Buffy, made $250 million selling DVDs of television shows in 2003, its top three sellers being “24? (season 1), “The Simpsons” (seasons 1 and 2) and “Buffy” (season 3). It’s been widely reported lately that sales of such TV DVDs are booming, so we can probably expect Fox’s earnings on Angel and Buffy to grow this year.
  • Although Whedon’s Firefly series died on television over a year ago (ratings – only four million viewers or so), its release on DVD has been a huge success. Again, no hard numbers are available, but it has been a top seller on Amazon since it was announced last July – and it didn’t actually ship until December. Sales have been good enough that Universal Pictures has now given the go-ahead for a film version. (Yay!)

There are similar examples from other shows, but I won’t bore you with the details. My point is: broadcast television is not a viable medium for some niche TV shows, but the audiences for those shows might be large enough to support them via some other distribution method. If every one of Angel’s 4 million weekly viewers was willing to pay $1 per episode, that should be plenty to cover both production and distribution costs, including generous cuts for the middlemen.

So what are the production companies waiting for?


Mar 28, 2004

I have now found the hard numbers:

The “Firefly” DVD has sold a surprising 200,000 copies since it was released last December. (The release fortuitously came out while U execs were debating greenlighting the pic.) – Variety

How TV Could Make Money Distributing Shows Online

Italian television, now almost totally under the control of prime minister and media magnate Silvio Berlusconi, has gotten so bad that I can’t bear to watch it. It’s embarrassing; the ads are better than the shows. Our building has an antenna with outlets in every apartment, which we eventually got around to hooking up in Rossella‘s Read More…

Italian television, now almost totally under the control of prime minister and media magnate Silvio Berlusconi, has gotten so bad that I can’t bear to watch it. It’s embarrassing; the ads are better than the shows. Our building has an antenna with outlets in every apartment, which we eventually got around to hooking up in Rossella‘s room (she watches MTV and nature shows), and, only recently, the living room. I am so uninterested that I have yet to tune the TV in the living room to receive anything.

We could get satellite or cable TV, which would give us some English-language channels, but they’re expensive, and I hate being forced to watch the shows that I like according to someone else’s schedule (if I were in the US, I’d have a TiVo).

We do use the television a lot, along with the DVD player and VCR, to watch movies and TV series which we buy on DVD. But shows are released on DVD well after their US airdates, and there are a few that we enjoy enough to want to see the latest episodes ASAP. One reason to keep current is the critics’ (and others’) distressing and increasing habit of giving away major plot points in reviews, spoiling important surprises and lessening their dramatic impact. If you have to wait a year or more to get a show on DVD, it’s hard to avoid being “spoiled” before seeing it.

The ideal solution, to my mind, would be the ability to purchase shows online and download them on or soon after their US airdates. That way I could watch them at my convenience, and keep them for future viewing (just as if I had recorded them to videotape). Considering that we paid $35 for 18 episodes of “Sex & the City” (Amazon UK | US) on DVD, it would seem reasonable to pay about $2 per episode for this priviledge.

Will it ever come to pass? Not soon. DVDs have region codes because Hollywood wanted to be able to control release dates around the world; American movies used to hit foreign markets months after their US releases. Nowadays, Internet publicity is seen worldwide, and creates worldwide demand for certain films. The Internet also provides a channel by which films can be distributed worldwide, illegally if need be. The film industry now tries for simultaneous worldwide release on some blockbuster movies, because pirated copies start circulating online the same day a film is released (if not sooner), and eager fans will download what they can’t see at the local cinema.

I suppose the Italian distributors thought they could afford to delay the release of “The Return of the King” because the pirated versions available are not in Italian, and relatively few Italians use the Internet. They should consider that the really geeky fans are often literate in both English and Internet, and have probably already downloaded the film. But these people will also go see it at the cinema; it’s a bigscreen kind of movie.

For TV, there are international broadcasting issues which probably make my ideal unworkable. American TV shows generate revenue for local TV stations worldwide, airing well after US airdates, often dubbed into local languages. UK fans of some shows are avid downloaders, because they don’t want to wait six months for their local stations to catch up with the US schedule. I doubt that they bother to watch the shows again when they are finally aired in the UK, so Hollywood and the UK stations are losing revenue from these people. Simultaneous release could solve this problem, too, and it’s a mystery why the UK channels don’t simply broadcast popular shows in sync with the US; after all, their language is close enough to American than subtitling is rarely needed.

Firefly: Joss Whedon’s Space Opera

If you never saw Joss Whedon‘s short-lived series “Firefly” when it was running on US television last fall, now’s your chance. It’s, um, well, hard to explain… a science-fiction western? It takes place 500 years in the future, in a universe populated only by human beings (so far as we know), just after a civil Read More…

If you never saw Joss Whedon‘s short-lived series “Firefly” when it was running on US television last fall, now’s your chance. It’s, um, well, hard to explain… a science-fiction western? It takes place 500 years in the future, in a universe populated only by human beings (so far as we know), just after a civil war reminiscent of the American Civil War. Our hero, Captain Mal Reynolds, was on the losing side; now he does his best to keep his beat-up starship and crew alive, taking on whatever work they can find – legal or il-. The crew includes a variety of types and backgrounds; I won’t say more so as not to spoil anything. Suffice to say that, thanks to sharp dialog, great stories, and very high production values, you come very quickly to care about these people and what’s going to happen to them. No, you don’t have to be a Buffy fan to like it.

The show was untimely cut off by Fox after only 12 episodes, in spite of a large and growing following. Three additional episodes were shown in the UK; all 15 will soon be available on DVD, with commentary on every episode, and probably some nice extras as well. Buy the DVDs

Best news of all: the Firefly movie, Serenity, with all the same cast, is fantastic, and will soon be available on DVD.