The announcement today that Hulu plans to roll out a subscription pay model for premium content fits well with my previously planned rant about watching television online. Intellectually, I understand that companies are experimenting with different platforms and models, trying to figure out what brings in viewers and revenue without overly cannibalizing their broadcast schedule. But all that experimentation comes at the expense of the consumer. I don’t enjoy being a guinea pig and I suspect that most other people don’t either.
In the past week alone, I have watched TV shows that 1) I downloaded from iTunes, 2) streamed from Netflix, 3) watched on Comcast On Demand and 4) watched on regular ol’ cable TV. I have also searched for shows on 1) Comcast xfinity online and 2) bootleg sites on the internet.
Now, I have no problem paying for content. In fact, I’d rather spend $2.99 to download an HD-quality episode from iTunes than watch it with Chinese subtitles off some bootleg streaming site from Asia. I’d even prefer to pay upfront rather than watch it for free with commercials (however, I suspect the commercials make the network more money than my $2.99). But the problem is, I never know where (or if) I’m going to find a show online. The bootleg search was for season 2 of True Blood, which is not available for download anywhere as far as I can tell. But how do I know without spending half an hour searching for it?
The real problem is that, as a consumer, I have to spend a lot of time figuring out where to find a show, and then, once I’ve found it, figuring out which episode I want to watch and if it’s available. This show is available at this site, but only for a few weeks at a time. This show is available on iTunes, but only the previous season. This show was available to stream on Netflix, but now it’s not…it’s a lot of work for a 40 minute TV episode.
The question is, will the TV networks have this figured out by the time most viewers move online? According to eMarketer, 64% of internet users watch at least “some” TV online already.
That’s a pretty big audience to treat so cavalierly. When I watch cable TV, the networks don’t scramble all of the channels around, or stop broadcasting shows that they previously broadcasted. So why don’t online consumers get the same amount of respect?
I’m just sayin.