Television Distribution is a chapter in The Business of Media Distribution: monetising film, TV, and video content by Jeff Ulin. It’s a little outdated (it was published in 2010, and thus hasn’t seen the further development of streaming sites, piracy and the like), but it gives a good overview of how traditional television is distributed, changing perceptions of TV and the possibilities of online video platforms.
Today we think of the other markets as emerging and competitive to TV, but if and when content is everywhere then free TV will become the limiting not the defining factor, because unlike other platforms broadcasters have retail-like limited shelf space: just compare 22 hours of primetime versus an infinite range of choice on demand or via the Internet. The fact that a program at least was aired or launched on TV, or was produced for TV, may become the defining element of whether it falls within the notion of TV at all.
This quote simply outlines the fundamental difference between traditional TV, and online TV: primetime scheduling of 22 hours versus infinite content online. This is the main advantage of online video platforms. Additionally, if you have 22 hours of content, to keep people viewing, it makes sense to have blocks of TV fit around people’s days (meals, work, exercise etc). And in a day, obviously, there is a limited amount of content you can air. The money comes from advertising, so it has to be built around long enough blocks that advertising can be repeated and sink in with the viewer. The content can be longer than online video in general, because viewers are going to be in the one place. With online video, it has to be shorter, because it isn’t necessarily going to be watched at home.
The final point in that quote is really important for our research. What defines TV now? Whether it was made for TV. That makes sense. However, if video content that was released online only adheres to the TV formula (length, style, genre), should that still be considered TV? I think so. If the online content could reasonably be aired on traditional television, then it is television. In that sense, it was probably only released online to maximise viewership.
Something which keeps cropping up in these articles and papers about television is advertising. I had previously thought of television only as television programmes, but this is a narrow view, it would seem. The content is inextricably linked: the shows are structured around blocks of advertising. Duh! Ulin notes that online advertising is ‘more valuable’ because it cannot be skipped. (Although, like I said in a previous post, it is more perceived to be more disruptive to the viewing experience.) Ulin says that cable channels can take bigger risks than networks because their profits come from more sources: 1) subscriber fees 2) advertising 3) DVD revenue 4) video on demand fees. Essentially, this means that their original content can be more daring.
I think this is an interesting point to note for online video platforms. Netflix doesn’t have advertising (unlike Hulu) so how is it economically viable for it to produce original content? Netflix is trying to be the next HBO, with the added bonus of BINGE VIEWING. It all comes down to number of subscribers, though. An article on VideoMind says that:
Netflix is giving people a reason to sign up while fundamentally altering the way TV is created, delivered and consumed. They are also directly attacking the common (though unfounded) complaint about not having enough new content to watch on their streaming service.
What we are discovering, here, is that traditional broadcasting is geared towards mass audiences whereas online video platforms target individual viewers with content specific to them (this is why there has to be more content).
mass audience=less content
individual viewer=more content
As I said above, this chapter is from a 2010 book, and as such its main limitation is its age. It doesn’t address new viewing habits (online binge watching) or the production of online original content.
Ulin, J, 2010, ‘Television Distribution’ in The Business of Media Distribution: Monetizing Film, TV and Video Content in an Online World, 1st edition, Focal Press, Burlington, MA, pp. 222-291