Slashdot | How Could TV Survive Without Commercials?

Slashdot | How Could TV Survive Without Commercials?

I was happy to run across this post on Slashdot. Wondering about what the future might hold for TV if technology like Tivo kills commercial television. It has sparked a major discussion, with more than 500 posts.

I have only started skimming them, but people make some good points and raise some intersting issues.

A few weeks ago, after this year’s emmy nominations were announced, I was thinking about what similarities their might be between HBO today, with its substantial slate of original programming, and the BBC (especially in their golden age, whenever that was). One of the comments on Slashdot got me thinking about it again

Both HBO and the BBC have the benefit of not having their revenue tied directly to their programming. HBO gets money from their subscribers, no matter what the subscribers actually watch. The BBC are major benificiaries of britan’s TV set tax, paid by TV set owners every year, regardless of what they watch.

HBO has to worry, in aggregate, about providing programming that attracts new subscribers and keeps existing subscribers, but they have considerable latitude in achieving this goal. In theory, one or two strong programs could satisfy most of their customers, leaving them with ample room to develop new shows.

What I thought was most striking is that HBO seems to be producing programming in a similar pattern to the BBC. Or rather, I should say, that some of HBOs programming patterns resemble the BBCs. Rather than booking 20-30 shows/ year (a very rough estimate) for a successful series like the Sopranos, HBO only books a dozen shows or so, allowing them to put more money into each episode. Beyond that a “season” of a show may not be produced every year. HBO, I think, is averaging over 14 months between each new season of the Sopranos. Then, rather than fill their schedule with first run programming, they repeat espisodes more often. In a given year, I would guess that a given episode of the Sopranos is probably shown 5-10 times, vs 1 or two times for a typical network drama like ER. This seems like a smart bet to me. I don’t have cable, or HBO, but I have been buying the Sopranos on DVD. I am quite happy to watch the episodes 2-3 times, which is more than I can say about most any network dramas.

I don’t know exactly what the BBC does, but it seems that many of the shows that make it to the US are on a similar model. This also creates the opportunity to create mini-series, a genere that has all but died on American TV.