During a rare lull in my otherwise hectic life, I took a moment to examine why my life has become so hectic. I mean, I’ve always had a job, I’ve played racquetball, I read, watched movies and TV, spent time with my wife, and even listened to music. And no, this is not another article on how e-Mail, FaceBook, Twitter, and the Internet in general are shrinking what little free time we might have.
No, this is about entertainment, and specifically who is paying for it. In the course of examining where all my time is going, I realized I don’t watch live TV, I rarely go to the movies, and in general I inject very little cash into the vast entertainment industry.
The closest I come is my monthly contribution to Netflix. Sure, some of that money goes toward Netflix purchasing movies, but I’m guessing they get a pretty good discount; much more of a discount than I get if I go out and purchased those same movies. And since I can rent them whenever I want, I have very little incentive to own my own copy. Perhaps I’m different; perhaps I lack the must-see-it-right-now gene in my physiological make-up. Certainly I’ve been fighting the I-must-own-my-own-copy gene, and being rather successful at it. In the interest of full disclosure, I have bought a few movies, but my price-point is around $5 . . . $7 if the movie is really good. The lone exceptions are Firefly and Serenity, and I make no apologies for those.
Music has a similar story, but with music there are other factors at play. As I get on in years the range of music I like to listen to has narrowed considerably. Most of it dates back at least a decade. I’ll occasionally hear a new piece that piques my interest, but all in all modern music has left me behind. Let me rephrase that . . . very little of modern music meets my criteria for good music. Sure, there is some, but it’s lost in a sea of discordant noise peppered with lyrics someone with a self-inflated ego thought were “deep”, but which instead elicit in me nothing but despair for the state of modern humans. Still, this is not a critique of said music; someone out there likes it, and more power to them.
Don’t get me wrong, I do listen to lots of new music, but I don’t buy any. When I am at work I often listed to music to distract me from the fact I am in a small room letting what little is left of my life slip away. I listen to YouTube; I assemble various playlists, mixes of old and modern music, and I cycle through them . . . all with no cost to me. I presume some of the ads they show alongside the videos help pay for the content, but as the window is usually minimized, the ads play to unseeing eyes. Some videos offer the choice of buying the music, but I don’t see those ads either, and since the piece is always there when I come back to it, there is no incentive for me to own it; especially since I don’t own an iPod or other MP3 player.
Even if that venue eventually turns to a fee-per-view model, there is enough free content on the web to keep one occupied for a long time. In fact, the only ones making money from me are the Internet providers, and they do not generate any content; they just provide a conduit for it.
As I’ve said, I know I am different . . . except I meet more and more people who do what I do; they are happy to wait for theatrical releases and HBO shows to be released on DVDs, and rent them when they do. They may own some movies from a few years back, but realized, as I did, most of the time the movies sit forlornly on a shelf, largely forgotten. Music has been replaced by books on CDs or podcasts. Books on CDs I get from the library, and podcasts are free. I occasionally contribute to some podcasts, but truthfully, if I had to regularly pay for them I would just switch to something else.
All this gets me wondering. There is a lot of content being given away for free, and the main consequence is to train people to expect a lot for free. Some is commercially produced, and much is from people who see it as an avenue to flex their creative muscles, and who are willing to share their efforts for free just for the exposure and recognition. Sometimes they offer the best content. If they get popular enough, their sites can make money based on linked advertising. Having never clicked on any links, I’m left to wonder who does.
So, who is footing the bill for all this entertainment? Will there come a day when the paying segment of the population shrinks to the point it will not be economically feasible to produce movies and TV shows? Or will there always be a segment of the public who will be willing to infuse money on behalf of all the rest of us freeloaders? I don’t know.
There are efforts to draw people back to theaters, but that effort seems to be concentrated largely on pushing 3-D onto a mostly indifferent audience. And I don’t even want to think about what will happen to movie attendance if swine flu develops into anything serious.
As some have said, we are entering a new world in personal and public entertainment. Major players are still trying out various economic models, and at least from my vantage point as an outsider, I have yet to see any economic model likely to replace the tried-and-now-not-so-true advertising model. The fear for us fans of quality shows is that margins will get so thin that most entertainment will eventually center on reality shows. Cheap to produce, and a big draw to many . . . a hard to resist combination when compared to the viewing numbers for most SciFi shows.
We do see some networks experimenting with reduced advertising for certain shows. There are also many hooks aimed at drawing people to some website or other, presumably to expose people to additional advertising efforts. To that end I go back to my original question; what exactly is the payback to some of this advertising effort? Are there that many people out there swayed by advertising? I don’t get it, but there must be, for they certainly keep showing it our way.