Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Why You Can Watch “NCIS” on Your iPad, but Not “Big Bang Theory”

CBS iPad NCISCBS has a new iPad and iPhone app that will let you watch many of its shows for free. That’s not interesting at all.

What is interesting are the decisions the network has made about what you can watch on the apps, and when you can watch them. Because they say a lot about the state of the TV business, and the way it is and isn’t adapting to digital reality.

Stuff to pay attention to:

  • CBS, which for a long time kept most of its shows off the Web, now offers almost all of them on the Web, and you can see most of those on the apps. The omissions in the mobile lineup are the shows that CBS doesn’t own. “Big Bang Theory,” for instance, comes from Time Warner’s Warner Bros. studio, so it’s not on the app.
  • You can see most of CBS’ daytime and nighttime programming (soaps, “David Letterman”) on the apps the day after they air. But its primetime stuff — (“NCIS,” “The Good Wife,” etc.) won’t show up until eight days after it airs on the network.

The state of mobile, or at least the state of TV’s thinking about mobile, has a lot to do with both of those decisions.

For starters, while regular human beings recognize that stuff they look at on a tablet or a phone is the same as the stuff they see on TV or a Web browser, that’s not how biz dev and legal people think. So CBS, for instance, doesn’t have the rights to show “Big Bang Theory” on your iPad, even though it can let you watch it on its website.

And even when CBS does have mobile rights, it can’t convince advertisers to give it full credit for the eyeballs that watch its shows on phones and tablets, for technical/measurement reasons. So it’s not going to put stuff on mobile until it has wrung out the full value of its TV ad dollars.

When it comes to “Letterman” and “The Young and the Restless,” that’s the next day. But CBS and other networks are trying to convince advertisers that they should get credit for shows and ads that people watch in the seven days after an episode first airs. That’s not happening right now — currently, they get credit for shows watched live or on DVRs in the first three days after air — but CBS is hoping/assuming they’ll get what they want in the next couple years.

CBS isn’t the only network paying attention to the so-called “C7” window; you can see evidence of that in Fox’s decision to keep its shows off the Web except for “authenticated” viewers who are also paying for cable TV. (News Corp., which owns Fox, also owns this website.)

But that thinking isn’t universal, either: Right now you can watch the episode of “The Neighbors” that aired last night on ABC, on the network’s site or its iPad app, or on Hulu, for free, without any kind of sign-in/registration.

Actually, you can watch it here, too (unless you’re reading this on a tablet or mobile, because, see above). Enjoy.


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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work