Commentary

Where Do You Watch 'Scandal'?

I was reading The Wall Street Journal over the weekend and came upon a Q&A with designer Carolina Herrera in which she tsk-tsked on how slovenly airline passengers dress, raved about her favorite brand of white shirt, and disclosed that her “obsession at the moment,” is Netflix. 

That's where she’s been watching “Scandal” and “Midsomer Murders.”

Somewhere, Bob Iger is screaming.

And so it goes, that a 76-year-old woman (as opposed to a network-TV hating millennial) is announcing to the world that she’s no network television watcher, either. “Scandal” as everybody should know, airs first on ABC.” Midsomer Murders” is British, but was first telecast in the U.S. on A&E and then later, PBS.

But that’s the thing. The oldest, moldiest thing people say about television is that people don’t watch networks. They watch programs. And now that a lot of them are easily available on Netflix and Hulu and more, the television networks and their quaint “schedules” are merely farm clubs for the stuff many millions of people will wait to watch while streaming.

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It may seem odd that people will pay to watch what they could see, earlier, for free, but free mostly isn’t free anymore. Free television comes to us via very-unfree cable or satellite subscriptions.

Though it’s hardly ever mentioned, streaming providers do the curating. It’s a great feature which I think is why people seem to consider Netflix something of a necessity while, for example, probably respecting HBO more for its quality. With Netrflix or Hulu,  I don’t have to “discover” shows like “Scandal” by watching them on ABC or even reading about them, endlessly, on entertainment Websites. I am not responsible for what's on 200 cable networks, or whatever. Netflix or Hulu or Amazon find stuff for me.This frees me and lots of fashion-forward people like me (and Carolina Herrera) to discover better things.

Joe Flint, at the very same Wall Street Journal, today notes that ABC struck a deal with Netflix that allows the network to flash its logo before episodes of “How to Get Away with Murder” are unspooled on the streaming service. That’s been a rarity, he reports, but networks are now getting more insistent. The networks hope some viewers will note the home network of the series they are streaming, and then seek new episodes there.

Selling streaming rights to series adds millions of dollars of revenue to networks and studios, but really, still, not much to their total intake--just around 2%.

But what they take away from the brand image seems much larger than that, so young viewers and taste-makers associate hit programs to the wrong purveyors and begin to associate streaming positively and old-line television outlets as, well, old-line television outlets.

That’s a self-inflicted wound suffered by programmers that  should have really figured it out a long time ago and created better online sites for themselves. Having your showcase programs gain currency somewhere else seems like settling for meaningless bragging rights long after it makes much difference.

It’s not like no one saw it coming.

pj@mediapost.com

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