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Thursday, November 24, 2005

... Gil Scott Heron to the contrary.

Adam Sternbergh, writing in New York Magazine catches on to the idea of subscription television, using the example of Firefly, which I proposed in this post in April. Glad to see you've joined us, Adam.

The article points out that "ransom marketing" is used with board games: the game designer creates a game, advertises it, and when he receives enough money, releases the game for free.

John Sullivan blogs that while it's all very well and good to have a subscription model for Season Two of something with a following, but how do you finance Season One?

Good question, and whoever figures it out is going to put all his grandchildren through college on the answer.

I suppose you could air the pilot. How many people would pay for Season One of Global Frequency after watching the pilot? But you'd still have to finance the pilot out of your pocket, and you might not be able to convince people to fork out money for your show based on just the pilot. It takes a couple eps to figure out what Carnivale or Deadwood or Firefly is trying to do.

So that leaves producers or studios having to front the money for the first three or four episodes, after which they start to recoup. I don't think the studios would like that idea very much. But it's essentially what they do already with negative financing. On the highest budget shows, the network fees don't cover the production costs; the studio only recoups when they can syndicate the show and/or air it overseas.

Or you can move everyone to the HBO subscription plan, which is basically: we air whatever we like, and you pay for it in advance, and if we're right, we get to keep our network.

Right now no one will do that so long as they can get TV for free. But if advertisers leave because no one's watching, studios and producers will have to go to a subscription or ransom model as the networks die off.

Yes, you heard that right. If all shows are being sold direct to consumer, the network stops being a distribution web, and becomes merely a brand. And as much as networks like to remind us what network we're watching, I don't think anyone's watching a show because it's on Fox. We're watching Fox because it has a show we like. So once shows air direct-to-consumer, we don't need the networks any more.

The great thing about being a screenwriter in all this, is that none of this is our problem. People will always want stories. It's up to producers to figure out how to get paid money to hear our stories. We just have to come up with stories that people want to pay money for. That job won't change much.

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"On the highest budget shows, the network fees don't cover the production costs; the studio only recoups when they can syndicate the show and/or air it overseas."

--or sell it on DVD, delay broadcast on another cable outlet as what Sci-fi does with SURFACE, merchandise it, etc...

The economics are changing though...

By Blogger Bill Cunningham, at 4:20 PM  

I have two words for you, Alex, and I want you to put my kids through college, mmkay?

Product Placement

By Blogger Assistant Atlas, at 12:52 PM  

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