Commentary

Can TV Learn From U2's Recent 'Free' Deal With Apple?

Despite growing pay TV and other OTT services, consumers always believe a lot of TV is still “free” -- especially when it comes to advertising-supported programming.

The music industry is increasingly going this way, whether with free single song downloads from special promotions, or digital music services such as Pandora and Spotify

Now the legendary band U2 is giving away its new album to Apple consumers for a limited time through iTunes Store -- all to promote Apple’s new iPhones and its new Watch.

But that’s not all to the story -- especially in regards to that now-loaded word “free.” The New York Timessays Apple paid the band and Universal an unspecified fee as a blanket royalty, as well as committing to a marketing campaign for the band worth up to $100 million.

So free is free here. U2’s new manager said Apple essentially had bought the music and, in turn, is giving it away free to its customers.

You can be sure the deal will further the band’s popularity as well as helping out the real music money-maker: concerts, where big name bands/musical acts can pull in $150 million to $200 million or more over the course of a year's worth of touring.

Maybe not so surprising is that Guy Oseary, U2’s new manager, works for Live Nation Entertainment, the global concert company.

The question is what can TV learn from this -- what other stuff can be given away “free” to encourage consumer engagement and better ratings? Should a viewer-challenged TV show  offer more than just free to-consumer episodes with no commercials -- in the hope of gaining more marketing spin for the show’s brand down the line?

Would that work, for say, Fox’s new reality show “Utopia,” which the network heavily marketed, only see it suffer mightily in its second episode?

Free early previews of shows, behind-the-scenes content, and now-standard TV promotional fare can be tiring. Viewers seemingly will need more in the future to be teased into big-time engagement. There’ll be higher musical notes TV marketers will need to hit.

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