Outside the bubble, awareness of the Writer’s Guild of America strike is less than you’d think. For those of us who are living and breathing the strike, it seems that everyone should be talking about what’s going on. It turns out that this is not so. As the two parties sit down today to again try to find common ground, the average American, exhausted from a weekend of shopping, is discovering that TiVo is delivering less in the way of new programming and more in the way of wacky recommendations.
(Side note: how about that TiVo love letter on ”’The Simpsons”’ last night? I’ve long maintained that bad things happen to people who watch commercials…I was right!)
This post isn’t about the strike, per se. It’s more about how Hollywood simply doesn’t get today’s consumer. Or rather, Hollywood doesn’t get how today’s consumer is rejecting the notion of appointment television. A common ‘loper mantra is that we want it when we want it. Seems simple enough to understand.
On October 24, CBS aired an episode of ”’CSI: NY”’ of particular interest to my household. The episode, entitled “Down the Rabbit Hole”, centered around a murder with connections to ”’Second Life”’. Since this series is not part of our regular watching experience (plus we were vacationing at the time), we didn’t think to TiVo it in advance. “We’ll just watch it on the Internet,” we reasoned.
Life gets in the way of the best laid plans. November turned out to be One Of Those Months. It wasn’t until this weekend that we found the time and energy to watch the show. First, naturally, we had to figure out the name of the show. Google is good that way. Then the network. Then, sigh, had to search high and low on the CBS website to find that, sigh again, they didn’t have the show available. Apparently, their notion of the online viewing experience limits the time frame a show is available.
We debated buying the show from iTunes. Decided what the heck. Did the download. And started the discussion — you know that the discussion had to happen. We like to fill the empty spaces caused by programming being queued.
The episode we watched was the first of a two-parter — the second, hopefully in the can — is scheduled to air in March or something like that. Between the airing of the first episode and the second, CBS has created a virtual game to sustain interest and build buzz. After a particularly lame start with online media, CBS has proven to be more creative than advertised.
Where CBS has gone wrong should be obvious to anyone. Viewers will come to this episode from a variety of places. There will be those who sit down and watch the initial network broadcast. Some will come from a rerun. Some will save the episode on their DVR until time permits the luxury of enjoying the show. Others will discover the show through serendipity. And some will find their way to the program via Second Life publications. The timing of all these methods of discovery are in the hands of the viewer.
CBS has cut itself out of the loop by archiving the program before its time. Those who really want to see this show are forced away from the CBS website, which means they are no longer connected to the game promotion. Once you lose the eyeball (no pun intended, hmm, that’s not true, the pun was intended), what are the chances that you’ll see a return visit? It is very important to maintain that connection.
The crazy thing is that CBS could have easily stopped this before it happened. First, of course, would be internal communication procedures, also known as talking to each other. No matter how this strikes shakes out, it is important that networks make the programming available to their viewers…when the viewers are ready to watch it, not on an arbitrary timetable.
Second, why hasn’t anyone in Hollywood worked with Apple to come up with unique branding/distribution of iTunes material? Call Steve Jobs, set up lunch in some dark and mysterious place, and propose a way of embedding the iTunes experience into the network website (no, I don’t have a real plan, I’m the idea person). Solves the problem of the revenue stream (viewers have clearly demonstrated that they are willing to pay for programming as long as it meets their convenience criteria) while bonding the viewer to both iTunes ”and” the network.
It’s very clear that Hollywood sees the future and it’s on the Internet. And when the future is virtual, then the solutions needs to be creative.
In the meantime, we have to figure out how to catch part two of this episode. CBS, for all of its improvements, remains committed to that most old-fashioned of programming notions: let the consumer do all the work…if we air it, they will come.