Cable television's pay TV networks almost seem like an anachronism in the digital age.
For years, those networks focused on theatrical films, and, later, first-run dramas and comedies.
Their longtime attraction: all programs came advertising-free.
The digital video age for TV networks began about three years ago, with iTunes offering shows sans commercials, but with a
typical $1.99 per episode charge. This seemed seemed somewhat familiar in the world of pay TV cable programming -- a monthly fee for programming and no advertising. HBO and Showtime might have been
energized that their long-time model was coming to your personal computer.
But the digital world moved on, and advertising-supported shows -- with no fee to users -- became the real growth
business model online. Now, the question remains: How can pay channels compete with the rest of the digital world?
The answer is, from smartly written and/or unusual programming --
shows that probably could not attract a financial supporting contingent of mainstream advertisers. Can you see HBO's "In Treatment," or "The Wire," or Showtime's "The L Word" or "Weeds" with big
mainstream TV advertisers attached? Not anytime soon.
Mingle with the Award Winners!
TV advertisers are currently struggling with how to connect with original Web content these days -- specifically because of the
risqué content. In that regard, perhaps pay TV is on the right track. Focus on the best content available -- with less regard for commercials interests, and more for the stories producers and
writes want to tell.
At the recent Television Critics Association tour, Showtime executives said
channel's subscribers are up to 16.5 million homes -- a growth of one million subscribers,
with much of that hike coming because of its
interesting TV shows. This is a switch from the previous glacial pace of growth in the pay channels category. Showtime had fewer than 10 million subscribers back in the late '80s/early '90s.
But now, considering the growing audience fragmentation of the entire video world -- traditional, analog and new digital platforms -- perhaps pay TV channels are in vogue again.
Great TV shows with a small core of loyal audiences. Isn't that what Internet video sites want from their Web-only TV series?