Why You Can’t Watch Your Favorite TV Show in the Format You Want

Recently U.S. based corporate-owned media has been concerned about how television viewers are cutting cable and the complete lack of “must see TV”… And to fight this challenge to market dominance, the barriers to entertainment consumers have been raised, including supporting SOPA and limiting Netflix and Hulu availability. So the way to support consumers willing to pay for media at a time where – let’s be honest – EVERYTHING can be found on the interwebz is to make it more difficult for people to get what they want and have the creators get paid. Huh?

The time to fix this issue, for everyone is closing fast. We already have an example of an international industry being brought down through users not being willing to pay — the anime industry. A 2009¬†Japan Times article¬†includes a quote showing that while there are fans galore, the business model is slowing dying: “The global fan base for Japanese ‘anime’ is increasing, but with the old business model crumbling it isn’t translating into profits,” and claims that profits were halved from 2006 to 2009.¬† Some of the reason for the decline is due to fansubs. I don’t think we can say that the overall interest in tween/teen teams fighting evil aliens/megomanicial geniuses with magical powers has actually halved in that time period. If anything, the success of American-based superhero movies demonstrates that interest hasn’t waned.

But the continued interest in non-US based media, especially from specific fandom communities helps to show how much more difficult things are for those not in the U.S. trying (!) to both stay up-to-date and pay for entertainment. And the issue if being out of sync with original viewing for US viewers of UK fan favorites, such as Doctor Who, Downton Abbey, and (UK television) Sherlock. There’s been tons of fuss over the U.S. airing of Downton Abbey on Masterpiece. Some Americans have been unwilling to wait for the airing (occurring less than two months after the original airing in the U.K.) and hence have turned to not legal streaming sites to get their costume drama fix. A similar, but less publicized situation occurred with the second season of Sherlock, because who really at this point doesn’t know what happens at the end of A Scandal in Bohemia?

As The Oatmeal discusses in comic form, even when people actually WANT to pay for entertainment, they are stymied. I don’t have cable so there isn’t a convenient means for me to watch and pay for Game of Thrones. I don’t really care enough to track it down– and don’t want to use illegal sites. So what about what I actually watch? I would be willing to pay for Sherlock and Downton Abbey, but it would be great to watch in a way where I don’t have to avoid spoilers (increasingly difficult … in a world with Twitterati et al.).

And what about becoming a member of PBS to support their offerings of fandom favourites? I am so repelled by the pledge drive’s offerings of “Doctors Stand On A Stage And Give You Baby Boomers Advice” and “Irish Ladies’ High Pitched Shrieking” that I refuse to pledge. But if there was an in-app donation option, showing my support for Masterpiece and NOVA, I would be all about that. (And it would be good to hear from PBS if it makes more of a difference to revenue streams to watch their shows live, directly from the PBS website, Hulu, or Netflix. Anyone knows?)

So to big-media cynics who would say, “How do we know people will pay for niche products, solely focused on one show or genre?” I respond — I and others already do. I pay for Dramafever, a provider of legal streamed Korean dramas, despite the fact that I can go to lower quality sites for free. And why? Because I want to support the continued creation of media I want to watch. (And this is actually a place where ads could be very helpful, when not ported in from Hulu — I won’t be buying a car, but I will be buying kimchi). And despite the increasingly limited offerings on Netflix, the month that new Arrested Development episodes are shown, of course, I’ll be subscribing.

But the options for media consumers are still way too limited. I don’t want to need to purchase a season pass to a show — or subscribe to Hulu Plus to stream on my iDevices. I want to be able to rent downloads, especially like now when my home internetz isn’t working. There are plenty of entertainment consumers interested in spending our media dollars, but if we aren’t given the right options, consumers, at least this one, are going to spend our money elsewhere, on super-old media (books!) or new media (video games).

Excuse me while I run home to watch a months old episode (but new to U.S. viewers) of Sherlock, on public TV, from a story that is about a hundred years old.


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