Friday, December 16, 2005

All Things Come to Those Who Can't Wait

How will alternative methods of video delivery, such as iTunes and VOD, change how people watch continuing TV series?

Right now a number of people refuse to watch commercial TV. Instead, they wait until the DVD is released and watch the entire season. Why?
  • Low-Risk Time Investment: Viewers don't want to invest time in a show, such as ''Reunion,'' that might not be allowed to tell its story. If a series ends unexpectedly, you feel like you wasted your time. By waiting for DVD, the viewer knows exactly what to expect.
  • Compressed Story Time: Viewers don't have to wait a week, or longer, for the next new ep to continue the journey. I know many ''Lost'' fans who watched Season One on DVD just before the new season, and they are not happy about the current long spell of repeats.
  • No Commercials: 'Nuff said.
Plus they get the same benefits as people who record the show — schedule flexibility. Networks no longer dictate your schedule. You control your own time.

What are the downsides?
  • Active Spoiler Avoidance: For some shows the viewer must actively avoid major plot spoilers between the end of the season and the DVD release. That's pretty difficult for some of the watercooler-worthy shows.
  • Watercooler Talk Surrender: Even if you can avoid spoilers, you still can't converse with co-workers about the show over lunch.
If these these last two points are important to you, then iTunes and VOD might be the best solution. I imagine that a series with a continuing story will be broken into three main parts during the season. Each part is shown without repeats so that intermediate climaxes, cliffhangers and finalities occur at the end of the Fall, Winter and Spring Nielsen sweeps periods. Repeats are shown between these three blocks.

Let's assume a season consists of 24 eps evenly split into three 8-ep arcs. You can watch the first seven eps on VOD (if you want to rent) or iTunes (if you want to own) right before the 8th ep. Then you can watch this last ep with everyone else. Sure you have commercials, but that may be a small price to pay once so that you feel watercooler-worthy and so you don't have to avoid spoilers. You do have quick resolution for that part of the story, but you will have to wait a while for longer story arcs. Just think of these longer story arcs as multiple seasons, and you'll have no problem convincing yourself that this is how you'll be watching TV in the future.

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