Shortly you will be able to see Lost episodes for free on the web, albeit with commercials (btw, my theory is that they have entered a parallel universe and are being tested by a non-omnipotent God). I’ve bought Battlestar Galactica episodes through iTunes.
But how will this affect the content of TV programs? I see a few possibilities:
1. Individual episodes are more complex and less likely to be self-contained. To watch only one show of Lost or BSG leaves you baffled. But who can make sure he catches every episode? What if you want to leave the country for a while? Now if you have missed a show, you can use the Web to keep in touch with the longer and more integrated story. You will do this even if you, like I, find web viewing distasteful and inconvenient. Not everyone can afford TiVo, and some of us still need Yana to operate the remote and indeed the service itself.
This mechanism will raise the intellectual quality of TV.
2. Perhaps the time lengths of programs will vary more. Has The Sopranos gone on a nearly two-year hiatus? How about a fifteen-minute web shortie to keep us interested?
3. (Some) webcasts will be reproducible on iPods. You will show the highlights of episodes to your friends. Perhaps many producers will make episodes to stress "the best two minute stretch or skit" rather than the show as a whole. Just as the song is outliving the album, perhaps the skit will outlive the show.
4. Might it, as Mark Cuban suggests, support soap operas in real time? What better to watch on your work computer, during work hours? In the longer run, the more entertaining your computer becomes, the more people will be paid by commission; blame blogs for that too.
5. TV on the web, in essence, shortens the release window for ancillary products. How big a deal is the DVD in six months’ time if a web version exists now? And what does shortening the release window do? It will be harder to figure out what is a hit. It will lower movie budgets. It will increase the relative advantage that low-cost drama has over special effects spectaculars. Surely you can think of more effects on this count.
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