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