The reinvention of television: so now we know


Disney is planning to show Desperate Housewives, Lost and other programs on line for free.  Viewers would be obliged to watch ads. 

If this works, we are looking at the reinvention of television.

The winners:

conventional programming
(for now, conventional content will continue, new media will not make for new messages…yet)

conventional advertising
(30 seconds ads, challenged by TIVO and purchase, are restored)

The losers:

(Moonves, CBS CEO, has been talking about the "cable bypass," here it is.  Cable loses twice, as the pipeline and as the supplier of on-demand content)

(eventually, all content will be available all the time)

(why have our own copies if all content is available all the time?)

The network and its affiliates
(remind me, what’s an "affiliate" again?  The tail that so often wagged the network dog is now in peril.)

television sets
(we will no longer "watch TV" to watch TV)

(Google wanted to be a video pipe line.  ABC has not forgiven them technical SNAFUs)

The Ipod "pay per" model is now at risk.  In the early days of television subscription models were hoped for.  The British pursued this with license fees for the BBC.  Then advertising paid the way.  History repeats itself.

The questions:

1) The WSJ says Disney will an attempt to engage an on-line community:

[V]iewers from around the country will be able to gather in "rooms" online to watch an episode of, say,  "Lost" and chat about it. Disney will also promote the creation of fan sites for various shows. "We want to tie all of these fan sites closer to our brand," Mr. Cheng says.

Can Disney build on-line communities?  This will take more than chat rooms, and there’s a good chance that Disney will fail to rise to the challenge.  Real fan engagement will demand an approach that is too far from the Disney corporate culture. 

2) Disney claims that viewers will have to watch the whole ad.  This despite the fact that the programming itself will have fastforward capability.  It’s hard to see how this make sense.  Even if it works, surely someone will invent a TIVO for Internet. 


Barnes, Brooks.  2006.  Disney Will Offer Many TV Shows Frre on the Web: ABC’s Prime-time hits and Zap-Proof Commercials are Pillars of Bold Strategy.  Wall Street Journal.  April 10, 2006. subscription required.  here

7 thoughts on “The reinvention of television: so now we know

  1. FXKLM

    Add the FCC to that list of losers. As broadcast television becomes irrelevant, the power of the FCC to control content is greatly diminished.

  2. Mary Schmidt

    Hmmm. Well, it’ll be a short revolution, methinks. I’d bet some techie has already written “Tivo for the Internet.”

    And, I just can’t see Disney, with its control freak culture, being able to do the “community thing.”

  3. jeff

    With Steve being the largest shareholder in the Disney and sitting on the board, aren’t Apple and the Mouse kind of the same thing? Do you think Steve would let something that would hurt Apple go through? Nah. And they’ve always said they’re not really making money from iTunes anyway.

  4. Grant

    FXFLM, great point, and not a moment too soon. Thanks, Grant

    Mary, yeah, I can’t imagine this won’t happen. Thanks, Grant

    Jeff, great point, hadn’t thought of that, so if Steve can get Disney content on ipod, it drives hardware sales. (purchase, ads, he doesn’t care.) Thanks! Grant

  5. Matt

    Why buy a DVD when all content is always available? Of course not. But then, not all content will be available, and it won’t _always_ be available. Under the proposed model, the studios will retain the ability to shut off access whenever they feel like it…which is the antithesis of “always available”.

    TiVO’s current model may eventually die, but then their current model is an adaptation to the suboptimal delivery methods of the present. I’d be quite surprised if the next software update didn’t include some support for downloading content to store on the hard drive and view through the TiVO.

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  7. John Galvin

    “Tivo for the internet,” or the possibility thereof, already exists — it’s called Linux and the open source software movement. No matter what they do to make “zap-proof commercials”, data is (er, are) data, data traveling over a network is data traveling over a network, and it can be captured and manipulated. ONLY software could make commercials unavoidable or un-fast-forward-able; and only with closed source software would such a thing be allowed to live. (And of course, closed-source software can always be hacked & modified.)

    Whatever investors or interested agents are buying the “they’ll have to watch the ads” line has money-colored glasses on. As it is, right now, whenever I miss an episode of 24, I hop on my favorite bittorrent tracker as soon as I get home and grab the episode — and am often watching it on a crisp, commercial-free, DVD-R the following evening. Granted, bittorrent requires technical know-how beyond most basic users’ savvy, but as soon as the entire population of regular old TV viewers comprise a community who will desire a particular hack, that hack (getting commercials out of Disney’s video stream) will appear.

    Heck, I bet a Firefox extension could do the trick.

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