To Disable Fast-Forwarding Or Not? That Is The Question!

The rapid expansion of single provider and skinny bundle SVOD (streaming video-on-demand) services has unearthed an important question: Does disabling fast-forwarding hurt or help the ad-supported revenue model?

New SVODs like YouTube TV are finding new ways to get into the “DVR Disabling” business, according to this MediaPost commentary.

A Short History
In 1999, when TiVo and ReplayTV launched the digital video recorder (DVR), it provided fast-forwarding through commercials, which had been established behavior over the life of VCRs. Consumers liked the power to avoid lengthy TV ad pods and get back to content. Cable and satellite MVPDs (multi-channel video programming distributors) began integrating DVR technology into their set-top boxes to compete with TiVo and emerging TiVo-like products.

The On-Demand Era
When VOD (video-on-demand) channels started to appear on MVPD systems, the content-producing networks began to require disabled fast-forwarding for on-demand versions of their programming.

In an earlier post, I analyzed the commercial loads for MVPD VOD channels as well as the internet service Hulu. These were significantly lower than the ad loads for the same live linear programs. MVPDs recognized early on that linear television ad pods were not acceptable to digital users.

Here in 2017, as newer SVOD services like YouTube TV, CBS All Access and the coming Disney/ESPN VOD platform launch, it seems that disabled FF is becoming the norm.

It's now time for content providers, distributors and their advertisers to stop and assess what this “norm” means for the future before taking a seeming path of least resistance into complete fast-forward disabling.

Consider that:

-- The fast-forwarding horse is out of the barn. Trying to remove that consumer convenience now would be like replacing the voice-generated directions of Google Maps with traditional display maps.

-- According to Hub Entertainment Research, 41% of those surveyed in one study say having the fast-forward function disabled on VOD is a major “frustration."

-- There is little value in forcing consumers to do something they do not want to do. Many viewers today grew up in the age of free and on-demand internet sites with little content interruption. Remember “A Clockwork Orange” where the protagonist was forced to view projected video images as a form of brainwashing? That’s what I imagine disabled fast-forwarding feels like for millennials.

-- Disabled fast-forwarding puts advertiser and content provider interests before consumers. It shows a lack of respect for the consumers’ time, one of their most important resources today.

-- I seriously challenge the notion that with disabled fast-forwarding, viewers are focused on the ad message and not diverting their attention to the many other devices, apps, people or activities in their lives. They’ve already been trained over the years to avoid advertising through technology (all the way back to the remote control.)

-- There is already too much competition from ad-free/fast-forwardable services like Netflix, Acorn, Amazon Prime Video and ad-free, paid options from Hulu and CBS All Access. More are likely to come.

The Bottom Line
When the music industry stubbornly held onto their old business & pricing model for online, it brought pirating, unlicensed file sharing and new competitors (e.g. Spotify, Pandora, Apple iTunes, Amazon Music, etc.)

Forced “payment” of viewer time and attention is a threat to a healthy future TV/video business.

2 comments about "To Disable Fast-Forwarding Or Not? That Is The Question!".
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  1. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, September 28, 2017 at 10:55 a.m.

    The threat of pirating is real for TV shows. Now that the new fall season has arrived, viewers can catch many of the new shows on 123netflix, which is an aggregator of pirated sites. Maybe money can be made by lower-corner snipes over program content rather than full interruptions. It is, in fact, the way that sites providing pirated Hollywood movies exhibit their branding.

  2. Peter Fondulas from Hub Entertainment Research LLC, September 29, 2017 at 7:05 a.m.

    Interesting POV on the fast forwarding issue, which is an important component of the larger issue of how to monetize content in the digital era, given consumers' changing experiences and expectations (e.g., your point about ad-free competition). One additional point about your citatation of our Hub study: In addition to the "major frustration" response people were offered to the question of how you feel when ff is disabled, we also gave them "minor annoyance" and "no big deal". Only 19% said "no big deal".

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