Content Programming Harms Content

Stagnant, mismanaged markets harm consumers. The broken video media market stands out as a broken marketplace. Relatively few competitors. Highly-coupled market components such as distribution with content makers make for less customer choice.

Tight-coupled markets mean decisions arise from the top or center rather than from the bottom or edges of the system. Akin to central planning, the oft-criticized anti-feature of most communist systems, decision concentration leads invariably to inefficiencies via poor decisions.

Content programming harms content. It arises from the market structure, and programming lead to poor decisions. The most criticized result of content programming comes in cable news. People lament the low quality of cable news content, while pointing to the need to fill “24 hours” as the cause (of course, it is not truly 24 hours, as the cable news networks show repeats overnight, excepting extraordinary breaking news).

But time-to-fill harm pales in comparison to the very notion of the timeslot. Timeslots arose from the radio and content programming there. A vestige of broadcasting, they filled the need to provide content over the limited resource of the airwaves. When broadcasting began on television, the limitation of the delivery medium continued to exist, as it did over cable television.

Advances mooted these limitations. Attention bottlenecks content delivery much more than distribution today. And yet content remains coupled to the timeslot, due to the broken market. So-called gluttonous viewing of content via video streaming services such as Netflix points to future erosion of the timeslot, but consumer expectations may keep it and its harm alive.

Many programs run longer than they need. This leads to filler content that weakens pacing and increases plot predictability. The occasional show runs shorter than it needs, leading to abbreviated or lost quality content (subplots and the like).

The same harms show out in the series or season model used for most television content. Shows may be cut short before their time due to the programmers’ incorrect expectations of popularity. Or they may run several years beyond their time due to the wish to reap as much profit from a once-popular, once-innovative show.

These things apply to the film industry as well. Sequels to movies that should never have been made, or shorts being turned into features when the short time serves their story better.

So-called webisodes also point to erosion of the programming norms. Free web-exclusive shows often arrive on irregular schedules and yet retain strong viewer bases. Discovering the true breadth of the actual video market will take years of erosion of the status quo. It may be that a certain amount of regular-release, traditional-length will remain, or in fifty years the only shows that come out at 22-to-30 minutes will be throwbacks and re-runs.

Just like storage media dominated by floppies helped limit the types of expressions of early computers, we’re certainly being limited by the current limits imposed by content programming.

Hulu: Pay Model?

Various sources (eg, The Guardian: Roy Greenslade: Murdoch’s propaganda campaign to charge for content) reported about hulu.com’s plans to charge for access.

The problem is that corporations tend to overcharge for their content.  Then they complain about an alleged sense of entitlement when their customers supposedly want it for free.  They are reading things wrong: there’s very much a sense of entitlement, but it’s one not to pay too much.  This goes for all forms of content and “intellectual property”: books, news, images, videos, movies, television, music, video games, software, web applications, academic articles, and so on.

Free is less than too much, so free wins over too much every time.

People deserve payment for their creations, but the economics dictate that how much they charge and what they are prepared to deliver (ie, their pricing/business model) will change the composition of their customer pool, determining their revenue.  Before the digital revolution, all sorts of sharing occurred that wasn’t priced in to their model, and yet no one screamed bloody murder over one newspaper getting passed around the coffee shop or office.

The sooner the content creators start moving to alternative models, the sooner they will find the sweet spots, and the sooner they will get paid for their creations.  But if they merely try to copy their old models in the new landscape, they are liable to find themselves with lingering pain for quite some time.

As I did not see specifics on the pricing/business model that Hulu will be using, I will withhold judgment about this move.  But I will say that if they plan on overcharging, they might as well buy some Going Out of Business signs while they’re cheap.

Update: An article on mediamemo.allthingsd.com, How Much Will You Have to Pay for Hulu? Nothing. How Much Will You Pay for “Hulu Plus”? Good Question. states the pay content will be in addition to the existing site, rather than moving some content to for-pay so it doesn’t sound like they are doing anything very dangerous with regard to their business model.  I just hope they get creative and take their time to create a better model that can be mimicked by others.  It can work, if they don’t get too greedy.