Recently, we became aware of a policy change to the way ABC allows viewers to watch shows from the ABC.go.com website.
As fans of genre TV, we believe this policy change is a Bad Idea.
In short, the policy change is this: previously, TV shows became available to watch, for free, with advertisements, on ABC.go.com and Hulu.com. Now, you are only able to watch the show after it airs if you have pay TV service from a select group of providers. (These providers are AT&T U-verse, Cablevision Optimum, Charter, Comcast XFINITY, Cox Communications, Google Fiber, Midcontinent, and Verizon FiOS.) If you get your TV from anywhere else, ABC gives you three options: wait a week, subscribe to Hulu+, or buy the episode through Amazon or iTunes.
Notice three important words in the above paragraph? “Pay.” “Subscribe.” “Buy.”
So, make no mistake, from a corporate perspective, this is what is called a Good Idea. Double Win, because even with payment, some of those options also include advertisements!
We do not begrudge ABC being a business. We do not cry out against a corporation making money. As a creator of stories and content, I like to be paid, too!
But we cannot help feeling that ultimately, this is going to harm some of our favorite TV shows.
I am a fan of genre TV. I like shows that have extended storylines and interesting characters that change and grow from episode to episode.
But this policy change is going to hurt these kinds of shows. Especially Agents of SHIELD. Live viewing numbers for Agents of SHIELD are solid, but keep dropping. But the numbers in the “plus seven” — the seven days after it airs — from people watching online are strong, and add a significant viewership.
For someone like me, who has no cable, if I am unable to watch the show the night it airs, I am out of luck. Even worse, as someone who has a website and podcast devoted to the show, if I can't watch it the night it airs, I have no way of making that up unless I pay for it. Which, you know I will. The hard core fans will dish out money and hand it to you. (However, if I have to buy a couple episodes, it will make it much harder for me to want to buy the DVDs. I'm a hardcore fan, but I'm also a family man with five kids — I don't do the double dip the way I used to when I was younger.)
But what about the casual fans?
Locking your materials behind a pay wall is a great way of guaranteeing that people won't come back. When I am searching for information about a subject and I come to a site that gives me the first paragraph and expects me to pay for the rest of the information, I hit the back button and find that information somewhere else.
Who does this policy punish? It punishes the people who rely on the “appointment” of “appointment television.” We are there, every week, watching while your loud, sometimes obnoxious and sometimes clever, commercials play every ten minutes. Because we want to see your content. When we miss it, we rely on your website to keep us in the loop so we are ready to watch it next week.
When V was on the air, I was watching it every week for the first half of the season. I enjoyed it. I missed an episode and went to the website the next day. A similar policy was in place then, although at that time it was just that the next episode was available after seven or eight days. Basically, you couldn't see the episode you missed until AFTER the next episode aired. Out of sight, out of mind. I intended to go back and watch but forgot until the next episode was on, but needed to watch the first one I missed, and now I was two episodes behind. I still haven't gone back.
This is not good for your content. It may be good for the money counters, but it is harmful to a small, potentially devoted, consumers of story. And with ratings across the board doing what they are doing (hint: they are not really going up) it possibly means losing some eyeballs.
And if people miss something and find themselves confronted with a page of text telling them how to watch, they are going to be turned away. Eyeballs are already dropping away.
Hopefully, the number of eyeballs you lose will not cause those shows who lose them to end up lost as well.
Hopefully, your reaching for the bottom line will not mean dropping dedicated viewers.
We understand, business is business. But your business is based on “art” — it is based on connecting with people via story. You have hired artists to craft something for people to engage with and enjoy. This policy change makes that engagement and connection more difficult.
I cannot see how this policy is going to do anything other than disrupt potential long term viewing in exchange for short term monetary gain. Then again, for you, ABC, maybe the trade off is worth it.
~ Ben Avery
The policy change can be found here: http://abc.go.com/faq
Allan Reini says
Ben, we’ll said. Unfortunately, as one of those people who have given AOS a fair shake, despite its numerous shortcomings, I also rely heavily on ABCgo when I am unavailable for a Tuesday night showing. Because of this policy, I am Done. Goodby, Agents of Shield. Not going to miss you that much. (I will, however, continue to listen to W2L7, ’cause you guys are great, and FREE!)
Derek O'Neill says
Hey Ben, a well written piece here but I can’t agree. Perhaps it’s because I live in another country and have a subscription tv service. If I’m reading your post correctly ABC are giving you an option to wait and watch without paying. To flip the issue, as a pay tv, Hulu+ etc. subscriber what is the benefit to them if a person not paying the premium is getting access to the same content for free? As a huge AoS fan I have to wait 5 days for the show to be screened on my pay tv service after the US with no option to stream if I miss it. And I’m ok with that because the money made by ABC selling those rights mean we’ll get a season 2 and 3 of this show.
Anyway that’s my two cent.
Ben Avery says
You ask what the benefit is?
On one hand, advertising. We watch live, and there are commercials. When we watch through Hulu or ABC.com, there are also advertisements. Lots of advertisements.
But the prime problem is immediacy. I know this is only anecdotal, but this has been discussed by a couple different people on their Facebook feed. One is a big fan, and is willing to wait. A couple others have said they are not going to bother.
I am willing to pay iTunes the next day if I miss it. Daniel, too, is willing to pay the next day. Some fans are just going to put it off for a week. (I did that with Battlestar Galactica for a season — watched it on Hulu eight days after it aired and just never had a chance to talk with people about it so I could avoid spoilers.) One person was just going to give up on the show until it was pointed it to him that he could possibly verify that he was a cable customer, so he could watch it for free the next day.
It’s the casual viewers they are going to lose, based on anecdotal information. What I do not know and am not privy to is their projected numbers. Will they bring in the money to make up for the lost viewers? They seem to think so.
And I fear this is going to hurt their online numbers in the week after the episodes air.
I understand it’s all about money. My own living is based on people purchasing my books, so i do not begrudge them that.
Derek O'Neill says
Wow, I shouldn’t have commented on your article. I guess I’m going to find the rest of season 1 much worse. With Channel 4 not broadcasting in the UK until March and no announced broadcast date for RTE in Ireland I’m out of the fandom conversation myself.
Hopefully I won’t be gone too long.
Ben Avery says
Yeah, that stinks. HUGELY.
I’m hoping that it does work out the way Channel 4’s statement makes it sound: the intention is to broadcast uninterrupted until the finale, right? My HOPE is that in the last month or so, that Channel 4 will be on track with ABC — so while ABC takes some breaks and airs some reruns, Channel 4 will begin gaining.
In our “It’s a Magical Place” episode, we specifically asked our listeners and Facebook likers to be respectful when it comes to spoilers.
Rachael Bryant says
Good bye ABC I already pay $112 a mo. For tv your shows aren’t worth paying moe
I’ve been meaning to throw my 2 cents in for a while and now is the time. The reason why *I* prefer to watch later is that I don’t have an HD television and for some reason the regular ABC station has decided to air the show in full-screen. AoS is very, very distinctly filmed in wide-screen and I literally can’t watch it all cropped as you can’t even see peoples faces half the time. It sucks that I’m already delayed a day waiting for the webcast.
This new log-in wrinkle really ticks me off. I suppose since I do subscribe to cable it won’t change my habits too much, but it does irritate me because login process is so cumbersome. It took ages to work out my hostility that it’s not available in “on demand” and now this. And my much bigger complaint is that, yes, I do believe it will severely impact the ratings and we are already on shakey ground there. It’s like they are *trying* to kill the darn thing.