First Hit's Always Free, Kids …
Rupert Murdoch is in an unusually generous mood these days, isn’t he? This morning Fox Broadcasting said it would make season-premiere episodes of seven of its TV shows available for free through Apple’s iTunes store. Beginning this week and continuing through the two that follow, the network will offer free downloads of such series as “Prison Break,” “Bones,” “American Dad” and “K-Ville.” Said Fox’s William Bradford, senior vice president of content strategy, “We wanted to give our viewers and consumers a new way to discover our content.”
… And get hooked on it, and then watch it throughout the fall season–either on ad-supported network TV or as a paid download from the iTunes store. Which doesn’t sound like such a bad strategy when you think about it. Certainly, it’s far more appealing than NBC Universal’s hilariously ill-conceived download service and an interesting alternative to ABC’s, which will put full-length prime-time shows on AOL one day after they air on broadcast television.
That said, all three networks’ strategies are problematic in that they require the audience to access programming in disparate ways. Even traditional broadcast TV, as antiquated as it is, doesn’t force viewers to watch different networks on different systems. “The consumer is probably becoming confused,” notes 24/7 Wall St.’s Douglas A. McIntyre. “He will need to go to AOL to watch ABC. CBS programming is on the iPod. NBC will be doing direct downloads from its own Web site. NBC and News Corp. are starting a joint online venture called Hulu. TV and film will also be available on the Amazon Unbox. Wal-Mart has started a video download service. The large retailer will charge for its content. NetFlix is also planning an online movie service. Viewers will be better off getting their TV and movies from illegal file-sharing sites. At least all of the content is available from one source.”