It doesn't take long for the "free" download of CBS Interactive's "48 Hours Mystery" app for iPad to rush you toward the subscription wall. Without the $4.99 annual fee, the user is met with a preview video clip of the next week's episode and a bonus clip. Beyond that, be prepared to get out your wallet.
Like everyone else in TV land, CBS is trying to figure out how to value its once-free on-air product when it moves off live TV and onto the Web as well as devices. For TV on the iPad, the network is defining value as access to full episodes. With a $4.99 yearly sub (auto-renewed within iTunes) the fan of the real-crime show gets to see all full episodes of the current 2011-2012 season, with the new one available on the day of broadcast. Also included behind the paywall is access to select longer-form stories from the previous season of "48 Hours Mystery," going back to 2005. For the current week's episode, the app also provides extra clips. There is also a preview of the next episode.
CBS interactive says that it will be including background videos, photo galleries and a social component. An active and live-comment feature pops up streams of viewer comments about the show in a long scroll. An embedded Twitter tool ties into your micro-blog account so you can let out a tweet about a show. And Facebook Connect lets you share and comment on the episode.
It bears mention that CBS is not taking a pay route with most of its other apps, and this is the first time it is trying a sub model. Apps for TV.com (which also includes full episodes), CBS Sports, News, Gamespot, etc. are fully free. The "60 Minutes" app gets a $4.99 upfront fee and lets you also dig into its own library for old clips and past segments. "Star Trek" PADD, a clever app for Trekkies that uses the Enterprise's control room console stylings as its interface, also has a one-time $4.99 fee. And this one is crack for just the kind of folks William Shatner famously told to "get a life" in the great SNL skit. Characters you barely remember are cataloged here, as well as detailed schematics of the Enterprise. Yikes.
Whether CBS's pay model for select apps does or doesn't work, it is an experiment worth pursuing for network and TV properties. Two decades of the Internet have shown that people will pay for their passions. The on-air programs with passionate followers, like trekkies or real-crime at-home detectives, have a new opportunity in the world of apps to monetize that passion with some design ingenuity. Crafting reasonably priced deep dives into these niches is one way that TV programmers can deal with the platform fragmentation currently challenging this old models. With nearly a third of TV advertising on a network going to its own-house programming ads, the networks traditionally had a synergistic model where the entire programming day was invaluable to increasing the full value of the network as an ad vehicle. DVRs and online video on demand online break one of the most valuable parts of the network model. Apps may be one way of experimenting with a model that leverages fragmentation. It zeroes in on the niches that declare themselves when watching certain programs and then gives the network the opportunity to super-serve them in ways the niche gladly pays to access.
It will be interesting to see how audiences respond to these show-specific packages and how they fit within the TV programmer's own marketing mix. A mobile app has a unique function for TV programmers. It actually can alert users their favorite show is on by literally setting off a notification alarm. Similarly, the TV programmer has its targeted loyal audience in hand during the program and has its best opportunity to push the app on them. And given the famously superior effectiveness of advertising on mobile, how could a TV show sponsor pass up the opportunity to carry its message through to a app that is sitting on the user's lap for 30 to 60 minutes during the show? The possibilities for unprecedented sponsor contact with the viewer on this second screen seem staggering. Will a new app-to-TV, TV-to-app synergy emerge from this path to viewers? That is still a mystery, but certainly one worth solving.