TV Eye

A Snippet of What's to Come

The Lost Room
The Lost Room

Where are you watching TV? According to a recent Consumer Internet Barometer survey, one in 10 U.S. TV viewers watches online. Newscasts, entertainment (missed episodes of favorite shows and previews), and sports are the most popular content. No mention was made of content like "webisodes" or podcasts tied to existing series. Details of the survey can be found at www.consumerinternetbarometer.us.

I can now count myself as that one in 10 people. Yes, I finally upgraded my computer system – only because my existing computer was lurching toward a gruesome death. It's been interesting to see the marked difference between how the broadcast networks and pay cable networks work online content. The Web has historically been a place they are loath to embrace, but having learned lessons from the music industry, they know that their future depends on it.

At ABC, for example, you can watch up to four recent episodes of their most popular series (Grey's Anatomy, Lost, The Nine), in their entirety. Yes, there are commercials, but they are mercifully short and fewer than over the air. Online, the cable networks find themselves in a curious dilemma. Why would they want to give away content that they charge for? They don't, and this should prove to be a stumbling block for pay cable, as they try to mark their territory in this widening field of TV viewing.

While HBO has long been the model for "premier" cable programming for a few years – they don't give away anything for free – Showtime may be making the smarter move by offering snippets (20 minutes, www.sho.com) of their most popular series (Weeds, Sleeper Cell, Dexter). The idea is that if they whet your appetite, you will sign up for a subscription. I hate to break it to them, but right now, I'm happy to watch the first 20 minutes and read a recap elsewhere. I've already done this with Sleeper Cell, the Showtime series that started its second season last night. The series is superb, but laying out another chunk of change on an already bloated cable subscription? I don't think so. Frankly, it makes me a little cranky, particularly when equally well-produced material is accessible elsewhere. Take the Sci Fi Channel's new miniseries, The Lost Room (www.scifi.com). Again, the first 20 minutes are shown, enough to introduce you to the main characters and the conceit of the series (single father and cop played by Peter Krause discovers a key that opens doors into a new reality), with an invitation to watch the rest at its regular airtime. Yes, you still have to have a pay TV subscription, but it's not above and beyond what you may already be paying (as for a premium cable channel).

The good news for consumers in all this is that boutique networks may have to give up some of their cachet and realize that viewers don't have an allegiance to networks. They may be fans of certain actors or genres or even writers, but viewers don't care where the content appears. If it's good, they want to know where and when they can access it.

In the past, I've moaned about watching TV on the really small screen, but I have to say, now that I've been able to catch missed episodes and get a taste of new series on my computer, I'm pleased. All this network jostling for a piece of the online pie is entertaining, like watching suitors vie for your attention. Who's the fairest of them all? Oh, the possibilities.

As always, stay tuned.


FCC alert

The folks at PACT (Public Access Community Television) want to tell you that new video-franchising rules (FCC MB 05-311) that the FCC will vote on Dec. 20 might adversely affect local PEG channels (public, education, government). Presently, the city of Austin receives a 5% cable franchise fee, which is 5% of gross revenues from Time Warner Cable and Grande Communications, in addition to monies for PEG operations and equipment for remote cable casting, a PACT press release explains. Under the new FCC proposal, "Austin would only receive a 5% franchise fee" with no additional allocation for PEG operations and equipment. Furthermore, AT&T, Verizon, or any other phone company poised to jump into the TV business (most likely through satellite service) would not be required to carry PEG channels or be required to build-out networks to the entire city. As there is only a 90-day period to negotiate a new franchise with the city, there is a strong possibility a deal could be brokered without an agreement all together.

"We are telling everyone to call and write the FCC immediately," says PACT executive director Linda Litowsky. "Access channels are tools to engage our local communities in democracy." For more information, go to www.pactaustin.org or www.savetexasaccess.org.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Public Access Community Television, webisodes, Showtime, The Lost Room

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