Hidden Down The TV Guide #6 - online channels?
This week's big TV news in the UK was that the Beeb was taking one of it's channels off the air. BBC Three was not to become an ex-channel though, it was to magically transform into an online portal courtesy of the platform offered by BBC's iPlayer and the fact that it is aimed at the kind of people who may use it more easily than others. You know, for kids. Was this more evidence that an old technology is dying, and a new one becoming dominant? Are over the air TV channels giving way to internet TV?Now other evidence of the growing industry of online TV can be easily found. I am sure many of you, like myself, joined Netflix recently to pig out on the release of season 2 of House of Cards and I am sure many of you have noticed that Lovefilm has recently become Amazon Prime as well. These two giants of the content loaning industry have gone online with a vengeance and are now content creators as well.
Aware of the threat, over the air channels have developed their own responses to new competitors. Old terrestrial channels like the Beeb, ITV, and Channels 4 and 5 have had their own apps and players for years now and some have taken on pay TV functions offering content ahead of transmission for a fee. Why? Because online TV is cheaper, easier to protect ownership of, and the hardware, our Smart TVs and phones, has already made the jump. But is the bright world of multi-platform TV becoming dominated by the new technologies and who does this leave behind?Well, I suspect the answer is that everybody knows the future is internet driven but the current is increasingly hamstrung by content restrictions. Like me, I am sure that you enjoyed a short subscription to watch House of Cards but probably didn't stay. I imagine you use iPlayer because it's free but prefer to record shows you can't be in for, and you probably get frustrated by all the adverts when watching other non-pay versions of internet TV. As for Amazon Prime and SkyGo and Blinkbox, where is all the stuff that you really want to see?
I guess the truth is that the road-block to change here is the people who own the content. The large American TV networks and the film studios, the multinationals who like multi-platform as they can enter their product multiple times into the market place as they have with VHS, DVD and Blu-ray before it. These people are holding on for dear life fighting piracy, maintaining the value of their assets and stopping us all from seeing the latest films and TV as soon as we can. In the UK, it suits a company like Cinemax to hold back a show like Banshee because it has an exclusive deal with Sky. It suits Sky to pay a premium for this and to drip feed content to it's audience rather than offer the whole series on SkyGo from the beginning like Netflix does with it's shows. Unfortunately, this might not suit you, or me or even the other guy that neither of us care about. It's about offering choice but being careful to offer it on your own terms, it's about maximising potential profit and denying the co-productive input of the viewer.
This insidious denial of the consumer can't be right and however much the end of BBC Three as over the air TV seems unimportant to us, one point does stick in out technologically savvy throats. What about those without computers, smartphones or smart TVs? As prevalent as new technology is, some don't have internet or hardware capabilities and although it is sad that they be denied the opportunity of watching Snog Marry or Avoid now, it'll be sadder if they lose better content later. After all, why should those people pay license fees for services they can't use?