There’s a couple of reasons why viewers haven’t turned to online video as a mainstream Television replacement: lack of selection, DRM and restrictive viewing windows among them, but the real reason it’s not taking off is that it is, simply put, grossly overpriced. The networks and studios, on behalf of program producers, are unrealistically pricing themselves out of a market they don’t want to succeed, because it would challenge their existing business.
Putting aside the stupidity of refusing to adapt to changing business conditions, and the inevitable problems that will cause them in the long term, the way that iTunes, NBC, et al are pricing for downloads or rentals, is completely out of whack with the revenues received from existing distribution.
So when NBC complains that Apple wouldn’t let them increase the already usurious $1.99 per TV show (or about 68c for the limited number of shows available with a Multipass that actually discounts from the $1.99 rate) it shows just how out of touch NBC’s Zucker really is.
So what is the “real” pricing? What is a nominally 30 or 60 minute TV show worth? Market economics tells us that it’s worth whatever the market will pay, but as the existing power players are competing with free and the marginal cost of the goods is close to zero, traditional market economics do not come in to play. As I’ve pointed out before NBC has taken $50 million in income from the iTunes store from paying customers, even while every program on the ntwork has been available free via various bittorrent sources. Without commercials. That’s $50 million they would not have had without a relatively simple distribution method like iTunes.
That’s $50 million of over-priced content. At $1.99, based on available information, Apple takes about 20% to cover the iTunes store, payment processing and content delivery leaving $1.60 for the program owner. Or for a 22 minute Multi-pass purchase of The Daily Show at 68c, Comedy Central takes 55c a show. Why is this unreasonable?
If I were to subscribe to Cable or Satellite Comedy Central would get about 60c – $1 per month for my subscription to that service. That’s less than $1 a month for 168 x 4 hours of programming, not one episode of The Daily Show. OK, Comedy Central also get advertising revenue, and they certainly don’t produce 672 hours of original programming a month, but I’ll address both those issues later in this post.
So what is a fair price? First, let’s consider a case study: my TV viewing habits in October. I’m far from typical for two reasons: we watch relatively little Television and we get it all through the Internet. We have no cable connection, no satellite dish and no over-the-air antenna. Walking the talk, so to speak.
In October 2007, we watched 86 shows, including one movie that we haven’t watched before. Because these came via the Internet they were without commercials so the 36.85 hours of actual viewing time, equates to about 50 hours of regular, advertising filled, Television. (I haven’t included the benefit to me in 13 hours extra time in the month, but it has to be substantial, but peripheral to this discussion.)
Looking at the iTunes Store, where most of the programming is available, and interpolating prices where it was not, the “rack rate” would be $155.26. Taking advantage of Multipasses for The Daily Show and The Colbert Report (the only shows that actually gave a discount for multiple show purchases) that drops to $112.55. For less than 2 hours TV viewing a day. This is against a US average of between 4.5 and 8 hours a day (depending on which source you ask). Scaling up the numbers to match the 4.5 hours a day viewing, would make the “best price” replacement cost for cable or satellite a mere $303.27!!!
Compare that with 100 channels for $55 as a previous Dish Networks customer, where (theoretically) I had access to 24 x 7 x 30 hours of content a month should I want it. Buying individual programs is 6x more expensive for an average viewer than a cable or satellite subscription. Something is definitely “out of whack” here for sure.
One way to compare would be to work on an average cost per minute of programming. While some content is definitely premium, and disposable content like The Daily Show probably should be priced at a discount to the average, it would balance out over a month, so a per minute average is, I think, useful.
My ‘best price’ buy averages slightly over 5c a minute based on 2211 minutes and $112.55 cost.
Dish Networks, watched 24/7 would be 0.15c/minute.
Dish Networks watched 1.67 hours a day would be 1.83c/minute. At average viewing of 4.5 hours a day 0.7c/minute.
This is all for content with commercials and calculating with commercials in place. I am prepared to pay a slight premium for no commercials but I’m not prepared to be charged more than 7x the price! We do have another data point in Premium Cable channels that run shows without commercials.
Assuming 8 hours a week of new content on, say, HBO, and a $12 a month subscription fee for that content, then we’re at around .5c/minute for premium Television content. That’s a long way from 5c/minute.
Over the time I’ve been running the “Internet TV only” experiment I’ve generated a feel for what I’d be prepared to pay for certain content and it basically works out at an average of a penny a minute: still nearly double what I could get Television for via more conventional means. At that rate my monthly spend would be $23.94 and that would be $23.94 more than the networks and studios are making from me now because I won’t be raped on pricing just to watch TV. (I would prefer to pay this fair price to those creating the content if there was a system available to do that.)
More relevant though, is how this would compare to what the Networks are getting now (and presumably smaller cable networks are getting less). Typical revenues from advertising per viewer per show are between 25 and 65 cents per viewer for the whole show. The absolute best advertising revenue per show is 95c per viewer from this year’s “Big Game” broadcast in early February.
At 25c per viewer for a 22 minute “half hour” show, we’re around that penny-a-minute mark. At 65c per 44 minute show, around 1.5c/minute but that would be for high-value premium content. Lesser shows on smaller networks are probably closer to the 0.5c/minute in advertising revenue per customer.
Long term, I believe the real cost of content will trend toward an average of a penny-a-minute with many shows being priced below that because they have no repeat viewing value, and premium shows that bear repeating slightly above average.
And that would be fair.