TV's Dirty Word: Programming As A 'Commodity'


 Commodity has been a dirty word when it comes to television.

Over the last few years, critics have used the word when discussing TV advertising inventory sold in auction-like electronic buying systems.

TV commercials shouldn't be treated like a commodity, they say -- there is more to selling TV messaging; it's more than just price. There are integrated marketing efforts -- including digital, packaging, and other elements --- to consider.

Producers of TV shows feel the same way. Without saying as much, some are opposed to what Apple wants to do with Apple TV -- charging 99 cents for a rental of a TV show -- because of what this means for the average TV show.

Warner Bros. Entertainment Chairman Barry Meyer, for one, doesn't like the "value proposition" of the whole effort. Translation: Apple is selling TV shows too cheaply. Meyer believes Apple should offer pricier season passes. If not that, then at least sell those rentals at higher price points, say $1.99 or $2.99 per episode



What's not being said here? That TV producers -- full of themselves when it comes to controlling their TV content and programming -- are beginning to feel the weight of the less-talked-about-word "commodity" in this growing digital media world.

Plenty of TV observers will tell you there are too many good TV programs -- more than can be regularly followed. Consider TV dramas. We have been told we are in the "golden age of TV drama," from all the good quality efforts on broadcast and cable.

This trend gets exacerbated by those technology companies that want to get those TV shows more easily to you, whenever and wherever you want. We haven't even talked about other media -- books, films, short-form Internet content -- that also compete with TV.

Apple doesn't always think about what studios want. Instead, its first focus is on what price consumers might pay for stuff. It then looks at the entire marketplace to figure out what content providers might go for. A few content providers sign on, and when business takes off, it's hard for other companies to resist climbing aboard the fast-moving train -- even if it means less money initially for content providers.

So Apple doesn't have Warner Bros. yet, but it does have Disney-ABC, News Corp., and others.

What should the studios do? Maybe make fewer TV shows. Throttle the content flow. Or roll them out more slowly. Or perhaps make even better TV shows than the next guy.

In the face of all of this, TV usage keeps climbing -- a head-scratching trend. But every consumer business has to adjust to real marketplace forces --- sometime.

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