Ranting on A-La-Carte

Mari Silbey —  May 13, 2009 — 6 Comments

There continues to be a perception that we’re inevitably moving to an all-a-la-carte TV model… and that somehow that’s a good thing. I was reminded of this assumption in a keynote session this morning at Streaming Media East with Boxee founder Avner Ronen. Obviously Ronen believes in the premise given that Boxee is all about accessing individual programs online and on-demand. However, I believe it’s short-sighted. Yes, I want lots of a-la-carte, on-demand content available. I want Netflix, and Hulu, and iTunes. But I want a lot more than that. I want a business model that supports good programming with high production values, and niche video that realistically often has to be supported by popular, mass-market TV shows like American Idol.

Let me reprise some points I made back in 2007. My opinion hasn’t changed.

  1. I watch shows on a number of different cable channels now (FX, TNT, SciFi, ESPN and more), which makes the bundle useful to me. Additionally, in an a-la-carte world, those channels would probably end up being as expensive on their own as they are when part of a bundle. (See this breakdown of the economics.)
  2. I like browsing. I don’t have the time or energy to pick out everything I want to watch ahead of time. Sometimes it’s nice just to flip through channels until something looks good.
  3. I’m willing to subsidize programming that might or might not end up being successful, and that costs a bit more to make than Survivor Timbuktu. That’s how new, good programming is born.

6 responses to Ranting on A-La-Carte

  1. Why must I subsidize niche programming?

  2. Dave,

    Because you will pay more not to subsidize it.

  3. It’s unsurprising to me that Avner Ronen would be shortsighted. After all, he’s building a business around showing content he doesn’t own in ways the content owners don’t (necessarily) approve of. Regardless of how much users like it, and no matter how moral and legal you believe it to be, it’s a pretty foolish business model. Unless he’s planning to be a martyr and let his company die in the hopes it will make things easier for those who follow. My impression from what I’ve heard from him is that is not the case.

  4. Mari, I’m glad you like the old model. Just don’t ask me to pay for it. I hate it. I want ONLY a-la-carte. And I mean a-la-carte programs, not even channels. The concept of channels will die. It may take 5, 10 or 15 years, but the concept of channels will die as consumers demand access to only the content they want.

    Will this require entrenched business models to change. Will this cause disruption for the MSOs? You bet. But its coming. There will always be a market for the subscription model the way you like it – great! For you there’s the Zune and music subscriptions. For people like me their’s the iPhone and pay-as-you go songs.

    The two models can co-exist and everyone can make money with great content. They are not mutually exclusive as you somehow seem to believe.

    …Dale

  5. Another analogy to ad here. For most of our lifetimes (at least those over 40 like me), record companies forced us to purchase albums full of songs we did not like to own the one or two songs we did like.

    When Napster came along, the enormous consumer, pent-up aggravation over years of being financially screwed by the record industry lead consumers in droves to pirate the individual songs the like.

    It took almost a decade but the music industry has started to adapt to their customer’s desire to purchase only the individual songs they wish to purchase.

    As hard drive comes down (Brent linked to a terabyte drive for $75 yesterday) and bandwidth goes up, Bittorrent is making it increasingly easier for consumers to access just the TV shows they want. The thinking? Why subscribe to an entire channel, let alone consumer unfriendly bundles of channels when the desired product can be had directly and, for now, for free.

    At some point the broadcasters will get it. They’ll adapt – because they’ll have to. They will find a business model that will yield quality programming, sold to consumer at fair prices, in a manner that does not require the consumer to purchase bundles of channels (analogous to record albums) full of content they do not want.

    Some people still purchase full albums. Lots do. For people like them, they can still subscribe to channels or access content via the subscription model Mari enjoys.

    For the rest, the individual purchase of songs, TV shows and movies will be the order of the day.

  6. Edmund Singleton May 26, 2009 at 1:13 pm

    Its sample I dont want to pay for something I cant use or some program I dont watch. For the life of me whats wrong with that. Please let the market place rule. There is no way to let a broadcaster know that we do not like what they do with out a la carte programing…

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