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Saturday, February 28, 2009

A few months ago, I blogged that the entertainment sector should do well in the recession. So I was gratified, but not surprised, to read that movie ticket sales are up 17%.

This in spite of a really scary conversation I had with a director friend of mine in LA, who says that the market for new independent movies -- meaning the market in buying distribution rights -- has collapsed catastrophically. Indie movies are made on credit, and credit is tight. It may be a while before ticket sales pump money back into the indie sector.

TV is still a problem. When the tide goes out, you find out who's been swimming naked, as they say. Ad revenues are down, partly because of the economy, but partly also because advertisers may actually be coming to terms with the DVR. As more and more people buy digital video recorders, how many of them are actually going to watch the commercials? And it's patently idiotic to suggest, as some have, that people "watch" them on fast forward. A network exec friend of mine said she asked about DVR's in a meeting, only to be told "we don't talk about that." It seems likely that advertisers are now talking about the problem, whether or not network execs are.

So broadcast TV is facing a technological issue that strikes at the very heart of its business model, and the tide has run out, leaving its naughty bits swinging in the sea air.

Meanwhile, pay cable is doing well. And more and more people are watching "on demand" or downloading to their computer. Ironically, via computer, it is possible to sell your show for money, iTunes style, or offer it for free download with commercials you can't skip.

That's fair. If you don't like commercials, buy the show. If you'll watch the commercials, we'll show it to you for free.

Of course with 60 million Americans still unwilling or unable to grapple with the analog-to-digital switch, any technological solution will likely leave a chunk of the audience behind.

I still feel sanguine about the basic market for television, however it's delivered. TV is about the cheapest way to have someone entertain you. But in the mean time, I wouldn't take out any new mortgages.



My DVR uses the four coloured buttons on the handset to skip forward in 3 minute, one minute, and 30 second blocks. The fourth button is for skipping back 10 seconds, in case you overshoot. So there's no 'fast forwarding' through the commercials - they just disappear. Watch a show like this once, and recording will always be the preferred option. Which is great for the viewer, disaster for the networks. But at least it presents the problem with clarity.

By Blogger Stephen Gallagher, at 4:48 AM  

I think Fox has found the best solution that could make everyone happy with Fringe and Dollhouse: dedicate less time to a commercial break.

60 second and 90 second breaks make it less worthwhile to rush through the commercials with the DVR. It's a hassle to fool around with the remote (especially when you can overshoot the act-in then try to correct the error) instead of just waiting a minute or a minute and a half to get back to the show.

Less commercials to watch in a concentrated amount of time and more people will end up watching them. In the end, both the viewers and the advertisers win.

By Blogger The_Lex, at 6:27 PM  

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