In an effort to force people to pony up for cable or watch live television, the Fox network recently widened the window between the time it allows its shows to be rebroadcast on Hulu from 24 hours to a full week. The result, perhaps, was not what they were hoping for. According to Torrentfreak (via Slashfilm), pirated downloads of “Hell’s Kitchen” rose by 114 percent while downloads of “MasterChef” rose a whopping 189 percent. The end result: Lost ad revenue from both live television viewing and from Hulu and increased ad revenue for Torrentfreak, none of which will be returned to the people responsible for making the shows.
A smart man or woman might one day propose this idea: Make everything that airs on ad-supported networks immediately available for streaming. In fact, allow it to stream simultaneously with live broadcasts. For free. It’s much more difficult to avoid ads on streaming shows, so theoretically, everyone gets what they want: Viewers get to see their shows on any platform immediately and without charge, while the networks get to force more of their ads on viewers. And we can all get rid of our TiVos.
In fact, given the large number of existing subscribers and the infrastructure already set in place, this could be the new model for Netflix, allowing viewers to watch these programs on their phones, their iPads or on their archaic television sets via the Wii Fit consoles that they rarely use.
Ultimately, this is a win-win situation for everyone, except cable providers, who’d likely see subscription rates drop dramatically. But it would free the rest of us from the tenuous hook monopolistic cable companies still have on some of us, particularly those who subscribe because of live sporting events. DirectTV has already worked around this, in some respects: For an outrageous fee ($400 a year), we can watch any and NFL games on our computers or phones through the DirectTV app.
Better still, it would finally give viewers that À la carte choices, only instead of channels, we could choose individual television shows. We wouldn’t have to pony up an extra $40 to get the cable package with AMC, while AMC would likely see a substantial increase in viewership for programs like “Mad Men” and “The Walking Dead” (and could thus increase their ad rates) from people who choose to watch their programs. Moreover, streaming programs would theoretically be much easier to track for ratings purposes, so many of the shows that are watched online or via illegal downloads would get more credit for their viewers, and we could abandon the Nielsen diaries and the idea that a handful of Nielsen families dictate what is and is not cancelled. Theoretically, with more ad revenue coming in from commercials all but impossible to ignore (you cannot fast forward through streaming commercials, after all), networks wouldn’t have to resort to as much product placement. That’s good for everyone.
The unintended consequence of Fox’s decision to delay rebroadcast of their shows on Hulu is more piracy. The intended consequence of making everything available free and immediately is a better user experience, more ad revenue, and — ultimately — the death of television piracy. And if you wanted to avoid the commercials, you could still download the shows on iTunes for a fee. In the end, the greatest advantage of all would be that viewers would be choosing television shows and not networks. Quality would trump quantity, thereby forcing programmers to come up with better shows. Programs that thrive in places like Hulu — like “The Daily Show,” “Parks and Recreation” “Community” “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” and even “Glee” would thrive, while shows that others watch because they are most convenient, like “The Biggest Loser” or “Extreme Body, House, and Genitalia Makeover” would be the ones facing the prospect of cancellation at the end of each season.