>The New Nonsensical Economic Model for Television?

>I must confess that I have never heard of this ZillionTV that all the studios/media corporations are pouring money into, yet it must have something to it.

Personally, I’m not a fan of watching television on the computer, in fact I’m right on the border between sceptic and Luddite when it comes to technology. I want my television on a television and internet on a computer. (I’m willing to revise that when they manage to create a computer that doesn’t hum when used for a long period of time. Although it still seems like being chained even closer to one device that already seems omnipresent in modern life.) Nonetheless, I also know that–at age 30–I’m a product of a different generation. (Sigh.)

The networks have made their current programming available via downloads or streaming for quite some time, and the popularity of sites like TV.com (owned by CBS) and Hulu (owned by NBC Universal & NewsCorp)*clearly show that there are people out there eager to watch things online, and where there are eyeballs there are opportunities to make money. This platform was one of the main reasons why the WGA went on strike recently, so it’s clearly going to play a role.

* Don’t think for a second that in this day and age anything is independent. Not even the Independent Film Channel nor Sundance Channel.

Since I’ve never gone on one of these sites, I figure I should take a gander. If anything it’ll at least increase my hipness quotient by a percentage point.

Stop #1: Hulu

Well, they certainly have quite a selection. The comedy choices run the gamut from American Dad to ALF to Howard the Duck and the 1967 version of Casino Royale. I opt to watch a bit of Rocky & Bullwinkle. There’s a brief sponsor message that states “the following program is brought to you with limited commercial interuption by XYZ*.” I have always interpreted this statement as a bald-faced lie designed to lure the viewer into having a positive reaction towards the product being advertised.

*They aren’t giving me any money, so I’m not going to do their work for them.

That said, it’s a bit bizarre watching a show like Rocky & Bullwinkle with “limited commercial interruption.” Hear me out. Shows like that are designed for frequent breaks (hence the interstitial animations), so the flow is not quite what the creators intended. Instead, the ad breaks occur at strange times, such as right after the opening for Fractured Fairytales. Put the adverts where the adverts are supposed to be!

Stop #2: TV.com

Since CBS owns TV.com, I hold out hope that perhaps I might find episodes of Designing Women. No such luck. They’ve got episode summaries up the wazoo, but not even a brief clip. The site itself is also quite tricky to navigate, because you have to look in just the right place for an actual video. (Personally, I’m a bit dismayed by that, since I do have a slight bias towards CBS over the other networks.) When you actually get to the video selection, they have a lot of filler from nearly every network not owned by GE. I imagine that there are people out there who have an interest in seeing an interview with Ted McGinley, but I reckon it cannot be that many. I opt for an episode of Astro Boy (2004)*. There’s an advert before the actual show (and as it was for a credit card company, I think they really need to start tailoring the adverts for the show).

* As an aside, it’s crying shame to watch the piss poor version of the opening sequence compared to the rather cool openings employed during the original run in Japan in 2003. Interestingly, Astro Boy is also offered on Hulu.

As on Hulu, the ad breaks happen randomly and also poorly suited for the show. (A car ad during Astro Boy?)

Since ZillionTV’s site states that they are “coming soon,” my journey pretty much ends there.

I do like the idea of being able to access virtually every show in existance, but these sites don’t quite deliver on that. (They’ve got nearly every flop show from the past 2 years, yet it’s hard to find a long-running show like Designing Women or Murphy Brown?)

Hulu certainly has an easier way of finding the show one wants to watch (as well as a sleeker design), but when you get to the actual watching, you’re a victim of randomly occurring ad breaks that mess up the flow. TV.com is even worse since it is harder to navigate, seems to have less content (in terms of full episodes) than its chief competitor, and also has the ad break issue that Hulu suffers from. If I was a company advertising on these sites, I’d be rather peeved that my product was missing its audience time and time again.

This ZillionTV supposedly will personalise the adverts according to the viewer, and what this ultimately means is that advertising is here to stay whether it is via broadcast on a television or streaming on a computer. Personally, I think this is rather short-sighted of the media corporations, especially given the fact that downloads are also growing in popularity.

If I had a choice between free with adverts or paying some small amount for a ad-free experience, I’d pay. (This is the idea behind iTunes’s season pass, also networks like here!, HBO, Showtime, etc.) It continues to boggle my mind that few networks realise that people are willing to part with money for commercial free programming.

Yet, there will always be an audience for free programming, and since “free” programming has its costs as well, there needs to be some advertising. Still, I am surprised that they have not yet figured out how to get the right combination of ads for any given show. They manage to do it on regular television, so how could online be difficult. I am sceptical that ZillionTV’s idea of letting the viewer choose their own annoyance is going to work, but I’ll wait and see.

Either way, this is the new world, so we’d better get used to it.

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