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The Clicker: "You're going the wrong way!"

Ryan Block, @ryan
Every Thursday Stephen Speicher contributes The Clicker, a weekly opinion column on entertainment and technology:

iPod Lost

Dear NBC, CBS, et. al.,

I know that this new "digital" world scares you. Heck, I'd be scared too. PVRs are helping viewers skip both commercials and shows. Torrents are giving people the power to trade commercial-free content. People just don't respect your rights, and "Fair Use" gets screamed anytime that you try to protect yourself. How do they expect you to survive?

It seems bleak – I know. Just don't panic; you still have a lot going for you.

Recently you watched one of your brethren dip its toe into the shallow end of Internet distribution. Swayed by the near-hypnotic Steve Jobs, ABC began selling previously-aired episodes of a handful of its hit shows through iTunes. While ABC should, at the very least, be congratulated for looking into the crystal ball, seeing a problem in its future, and attempting to do something about it, that doesn't mean they are right. Resist the urge to be lemmings.

Don't get me wrong; I'm not suggesting that you forgo either the Internet or pay-per-view. I'm simply suggesting that ABC is going in the wrong direction and that you'd be advised to turn around before you look even more foolish.

Speaking of foolish ? those latest moves of yours seem quite desperate. Whee ? you?re going to sell episodes of past shows too! The only difference is that yours won?t be portable and will essentially be locked to the company-provided (e.g. Comcast and DirecTV) PVRs. Guys? Don?t you think that if people wanted those show on their PVRs they would have? well? recorded them? That?s kind of the point of the whole thing.

So, earlier I said that you were going in the wrong direction. I?ll explain: while ABC appears to be focused on previously-aired episodes, you need to focus on yet-to-be-aired episodes. That?s where it gets interesting. A cursory look at your numbers suggests that this is possible. You?re already willing to sell past episodes for 99 cents. Why not sell yet-to-be-aired episodes at Apple?s $1.99 price point? That?s a whole ?nother buck. You can use a good portion of the marginal revenue to bribe the local stations and you?d still be making money.

You see ? fundamentally people pay more if it?s something that?s not already readily available. Imagine being able to see ?Lost? a week early. OK ? that?s a bad example. You don?t have ?Lost.? Maybe that?s the problem: you don?t have much these days. This brings me to my second yet-to-be-aired suggestion, pilots. Why don?t you shake up the way that television works and create Picture this:

Instead of trying to guess which shows will be popular and which shows won?t, let people fire up their televisions and check them out for themselves. After every pilot users would be required to fill out a questionnaire. You could use the same delivery mechanism as your current/soon-to-be video-on-demand offerings. (However, I would encourage you to offer these shows for free.)

This would do two things: it would give you a better understanding of which shows to keep and which to let go, but, more importantly, it would help to create a buzz around a show. For instance, NBC ? you have a pretty solid show in Surface. However, it just hasn?t found its way in the world yet. It?s possible that if users had been able to escape the reality-driven summer schedule and take a gander at what?s upcoming, Surface would have, well, surfaced with the power of its monsters. Instead its swimming along like a big sea-turtle.

While these suggestions might seem somewhat scary or perhaps just whimsical, the point is still the same. The world is changing and you need to stop cramming the old system into the new world. Don?t fight the Internet. Instead, take advantage of its power. Use its advantages. Don?t let this opportunity pass you by. Once it?s gone, it might just be gone forever.

In any case, I?ll let you get back to your business of screening television shows and attempting to discern what the rest of the world would like to watch. Good luck with that!

A Passionate Viewer

If you have comments or suggestions for future columns, drop me a line at

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