Premium for Free?

Looking at the cable bill last night made me think about the premium movie channels. It’s no secret that HBO is hurting for viewers right now. No more Sex and the City and The Sopranos created a void in HBO’s television programming. The TV shows that have taken their place, while they have a following, just don’t score as high in the ratings. There are several TV shows that I watch on premium networks, such as Dexter, True Blood, Entourage, and Californication. The problem is, in this economy, people are going to start cutting premiums out of their lives to save money. If they do cancel the service but enjoy the TV show, there is more incentive to pirate it or stream it from websites that host not-so-legal files. Here is my proposition to the premium networks: Stream the programs for free.

The major networks are streaming their content for free already. I know, I know, you don’t pay for the major networks, you do for HBO or Showtime. Let’s look at it in a different way. If HBO and Showtime started streaming their premium programs (shows, not movies) for free, but with limited commercial interruptions (just like the networks do on their respective sites), they could be reaching out to millions of more people and see additional revenue in new advertising. This is something they don’t see on their channels, as they do not show advertising. My theory is that most people don’t subscribe to a channel for one TV show. They also enjoy the other benefits the channel has to offer (other shows, new movies, sporting events, documentaries). If that channel starts streaming television shows I doubt you’d see people drop their subscription, and if you do, the amount that would would be far less than the amount you would gain by advertisements on the stream. I also think it could help them pick up subscribers. If people become interested enough in the shows to look at what else the channel has to offer, they could become new paying customers. I think it would be a smart move for the premium networks to look into this. Streaming content is not going away.

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3 thoughts on “Premium for Free?

  1. Art is getting its ass kicked.

    I still don’t know if I’m ready to see The Sopranos with commercial breaks. And I don’t know how many advertisers would want to be associated with a show like The Wire (they won’t even toss them an Emmy nomination even though every critic on the planet wants to get the show pregnant).

    The economy of HBO is an interesting thing to break down. And I think it works because people have to pay for subscription.

    Because it’s cable, they’re off the FCC’s radar – they have the freedom to do what they want. So people who create great, ground-breaking shows WANT to work with HBO. And HBO needs great shows more than it needs great ads. In turn, they attract a certain type of viewer, who expects more than a regular network show delivers. And the scripts are structured around the fact that there are no commercial breaks (which is a subtle but important difference, IMO). And that’s their brand.

    If they become Just Another Network, issawrap.

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  2. very good points. I thought about the advertisers wanting to advertise on shows like Californication and the Sopranos, but I never really thought about the FCC.

    Bottom line is I wish there was a way to legally view television shows from the premium networks without paying an additional fee. Maybe it’s a login to the website tied to your cable or satellite account. I don’t know. I understand it is about money, so this will never happen.

    I recently stumbled across the great show Brotherhood. It’s a mix between The Departed and The Sopranos. They made money off of me because I purchased the first two seasons from iTunes. If they were available for streaming legally I wouldn’t have purchased on iTunes (though I would have probably bought the seasons on DVD).

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  3. Yeah, if you pay for a subscription, an On-Demand service would be great, whether it’s online or through the TV. Or at least have it available as an add-on. I’m not a subscriber of HBO, even though I buy many of their shows on DVD, so maybe they already have something like this?

    Adding on to my previous comment:

    Another side effect of having subscribers rather than advertisers pay for HBO’s network is they don’t need to make sure everyone loves ALL their shows. If people only watch two shows from their entire line-up, they still make the same money. Huge difference.

    Other networks need to make sure every single show on their network is accessible to as many people as possible. Nothing that strays too far from the norm, you might alienate someone. Advertisers hate that. Gotta make sure the shows fit that formula… “What? You’re gonna kill off a LIKABLE character for the sake of theme and STORY? Get back in line, you foolish writer.”

    (Tell em why you mad.)

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