I read recently about this new technology called AutoHop that Dish TV is offering to its DVR subscribers. It allows them to press a button and skip all commercials on a recorded show (with restrictions). This has led to court shenanigans between the cable provider and the broadcast networks. Vivek Khemka, VP of product management at Dish TV, says “People have been fast-forwarding through commercials since the beginning of DVRs.” Ha! How old is she, 22? We’ve been fast-forwarding through commercials since the invention of the VCR, which is quite a few decades longer.
I’m actually pretty bothered by the whole thing. I mostly watch TV via DVR, so yeah, I fast-forward commercials. But at least I’m still seeing them. People watching live get up to go to the bathroom or get a snack, so they often don’t see them at all. AutoHop means you have no idea what commercials there were and don’t even have a chance to happen upon one. Fast-forwarding means if something looks interesting, I’ll stop and watch it. Doesn’t mean I’ll buy the product, but that’s a whole ‘nother discussion.
This case is just a symptom of bigger issues that have been plaguing the television industry for a long time. Broadcast TV (ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, and the CW) is still free, but it’s not easy to capture. So most of us pay for cable or satellite. We pay them for access to networks, and they pay the networks. Many people are moving to Internet TV of some sort, or watching online days or weeks or years after the original airing.
Revenue streams are complicated. Non-“reality” TV is expensive to produce. Studios produce a show, then contract with networks to air it. Networks present it to advertisers to get income to offset the costs of the production contract. If advertisers know we’re not watching at all, they’ll stop paying the networks, who then can’t pay for original content. *poof* goes quality television.
There have been skirmishes of other sorts, too. The owner of two of our local network affiliates fought with DirecTV a few months ago, so they shut down our access for a few days. Both blamed the other for greed. That happened with the owner of two other local affiliates back in January and Verizon. Dish and AMC are now doing that dance. I wonder how the advertisers feel about that.
All of this is mirrored in other industries, too. For a while, there was fear the movie industry would collapse because of competition from Blu Ray and surround sound, affordable DVD, and on demand. Even though things have evened out a little, only certain kinds of movies turn a big profit. Music companies and their performers make most of their income through live shows rather than sales of albums and songs. At least, until the performers have to cancel gigs because burnout has made them sick. And we’ve all seen how this manifests in the book industry, with the tidal wave of available books and the intense debate over pricing, with the behemoth, would-be world conqueror Amazon being treated like a bullied little mom-and-pop, and with agents struggling to stay relevant.
All of this chaos has its pros and cons for consumers, but I’ll stop talking now and see what you have to say about that. This should be my last fill-in post for Shawna, so let’s go out with a prize. All commenters will be entered into a drawing for a surprise pack of goodies! So weigh in with your thoughts on the state of the entertainment industry today! (Comments through midnight Friday, June 29, EDT, will be included in the drawing.)