Flix for free?
I remember back in 1991, a very big thing happened; cable TV had come to the Soviet Union. Who would’ve known it was the last year of its existence?
That was a very unusual thing; just one channel that you could (in the beginning) tune in for free and enjoy watching American movies. Something unseen before or only on the video, with a VCR being a very expensive device to buy at the time in Russia.
Then, after some time, you’d found out you need a decoder to continue receiving the signal and watching interesting stuff. Basically, everybody’s done it; that was the alternative TV, with the internet non-existent yet, and the money you paid for it really did make it worth it.
It was the first time when I realized that TV content could be available only for money, just like watching a movie in the cinema.
Now we have a wide choice of HD internet-streamed TV channels. You now don’t even have to pay for it directly like cable TV in the past, you just buy some internet plan from your local provider to customize it, be it some Premium cinema package or SuperSport or whatever you like on top of your basic pln.
Thinking globally, I’m absolutely fine to pay for TV/media content. A person invests his/her resources in creating a media product, be it a TV show, a book, an article, whatever. This is mental and physical efforts, this is creativity, this is your precious time: i.e. various types of investment. Then people use it for their own fun. Why should they get it for free? This is work that has to be rewarded: if it is good you would expect return on your investment in one way or another.
On the other hand, if your product is not good enough nobody buys it. Fair enough. Free media products? Who’s paying for them, in the end?
So yes, I would give my vote for the subscription media products, including TV. Such an approach would guarantee production of good, competitive products to be enjoyed by their target audience.
Just like buying food in the supermarket.
Funding for Auntie
In Britain, we have an old and quaint method of paying for our national broadcaster, the BBC. Certainly, what the UK has at the moment is pretty unique – a national broadcaster, funded not by subscription, but by an annual licence fee, which has grown from £10.00 in 1967, to today’s £154.00. That seems an astronomical rise until you work out that £10.00, 53 years ago, is worth £174 today.
The whole question of how the BBC should be funded has truly polarised public opinion. There’s the section of the population who claim they never watch the BBC on television, never listen to any of the six national radio stations, never come across any of the 40 local radio stations, and have never read a page of one of the largest web-sites on the planet, never ever utilised the iPlayer and Sounds app. Oh yes, and the BBC is totally biased, (despite them never having laid a foot anywhere near the broadcaster.) So why should they pay the licence fee? It’s appalling value, they say.
At the other end of the spectrum, you have those who think, at around 42p a day, it represents very fair value for money, taking into account the huge amount on offer. Compare that to most daily newspapers, who can charge anywhere between 50p and £2.50 per edition.
Those somewhere in the middle suggest a different form of funding, like adverts, or a subscription fee like Netflix. I’ve seen plenty of comments suggesting Netflix’s subscription of between £72 and £144 per year is much better value than Auntie’s asking price. But how on earth can you compare the two? Netflix offers films, box sets, TV shows, and comedies. It’s highly popular, and rightly so, but doesn’t come close to the BBC offering.
Adverts? Oh, please no. Who wants to endure countless interruptions every episode. Even live sports are not immune, including the famous missing climax of the San Marino Grand Prix back in 2005 on ITV, the main independent national broadcaster. When watching the news, I really don’t need a lavatory break half way through – I can still hold it in for half an hour you know.
And don’t give me this stuff about it’s free to watch because it’s ITV, or Channel 4, or whatever. Who do you think pays for the hugely expensive adverts? ‘Tis you – every single product you buy that is featured in adverts has a premium on it to pay for the advertising.
I do know that at local level the BBC, in which I was heavily involved for almost three decades, budgets always seemed to stand still. With two radio stations and a TV station in the tiny Channel Islands broadcasting to over 160,000 people, costs continued to increase, and the result was inevitably cuts in real terms. I know that things are no different today.
One of my former colleagues always described the licence fee as the “least worst” idea. Maybe that’s not far wrong; from the point of view of those who think it’s archaic, including the possibility of a prison sentence for non-payment, I do have some sympathy.
I really believe BBC local radio needs to thrive, even though it might well need to reinvent itself again for a new generation. I also firmly believe that in this era of fake news, the BBC nationally needs to re-invigorate its efforts for impartiality and truth. I agree with the Director General that the country needs a strong BBC that can champion the nation’s creativity at home and abroad and that we ignore that at our peril.
It’s certainly possible we will see, over the next few years, the gradual fading out of BBC local radio, where so many great presenters and commentators learnt their trade. It could well be that come the renewal of the BBC charter in 2027, the whole organisation might change beyond recognition. But before any of you wish it good riddance, do consider that what might replace it could well be seriously inferior, and you can bet your bottom dollar, pound or rouble, that it will be a darn sight more expensive. Keep the licence fee! No to adverts and subscriptions! Up the BBC!
Should you pay for News?
It cost serious money to broadcast television. I remember the cameras news photographers used to carry, you know the grey Sony cameras that would sit on your shoulder? Those used to cost $22,000.
A television station is a multi-million dollar operation, often involving things like jet helicopters and a fleet of twenty cars. In smaller markets, they need between fifty and seventy-five people to run.
Even the electric bill would make your eyes water. Turns out five million watt UHF transmitters eat piles of the stuff.
In the US, advertisers keep the doors open. A commercial will cost anywhere from a couple hundred dollars to enough to buy a nice, used car. Working in Master Control is one of the most stressful jobs you could have. Every time I used to click a button, several thousand dollars were on the line. Today, computers do the job. And Master Control is in a central location in some far away city where maybe a dozen stations are run from a control center.
But even that change is not enough. The way we consume media is about to change in a way that makes the rise of Cable TV look minor. So the question is how will we pay for this.
I think these local news operations are important and need to remain open. Broadcast television and the supporting networks are going to have to change to meet the new economic realties of the Internet.
The local, daily newspaper was destroyed by Craigs List. Few buy classified ads anymore and that was the largest funding source for newspapers. Most newspapers were not able to make the jump to the Internet.
Then Google, who has gone from “Do No Evil” to the destroyer all all things good, ate the news and crapped out Google News, an aggregator that, like Craigs List, is free. Now folks no longer think they should pay for news, or even watch ads.
The major broadcast networks are only in a slightly better position. Their major news operations have already been cut to the bone. The money and viewers are simply gone. However, they are able to create TV shows and they do have catalogs of old, hit shows. They are all trying to start Internet streaming operations.
I believe most will fail. I already pay for Netflix and Curiosity Stream. How many services does Disney, Apple, and CBS think I plan to buy?
What these guys fail to understand is that, yeah, I used to shell out sixty or seventy dollars a month for Cable Television. But I had little choice. Moreover, that was for ALL the channels. Like hundreds, not the five or six these rich, monster corporations think I want to pay for now.
AND I hated it! I knew I was being played for a fool. Comcast was consistently voted the most hated company in America. A title they richly deserved. Their “package” cost maybe $130 a month (included Internet and some crap I didn’t want). Now, all these new multi-national corporations think I want to be an idiot all over agin.
My prediction is that this market will quickly become over-saturated and most will fail. We will have maybe twenty streaming choices that will fall back to maybe five or six in a couple of years. And, guess what, most will have a free, ad supported tier just like the old days. When this is all over with not a lot will have changed.