Friday, February 19, 2010

There Goes Paradise

I have really been enjoying the new SyFy (jeez, I hate that spelling) Channel show Caprica, a prequel to the new Battlestar Galactica, which I also liked a great deal. And I can watch it even though I don't have cable, or know what night it is on. SyFy, like a number of other networks, makes their shows available online, which means they can be watched any time one wants. I can connect my laptop directly to my TV, and some networks (like ABC) have online video quality that even exceeds that of what comes over my cable provider! This is how I watch Lost each week--and I recently discovered a show called FlashForward, which I also like a lot. And what I really like about watching programs online is that there are far far far fewer commercials. There are the usual commercial breaks (shows are actually written with "act breaks" and develop dramatically between commercials), but only last about 30 seconds (not enough time for a bathroom break, though) and typically include only one sponsor. In the case of FlashForward, some episodes offered the option of playing a 90-second introductory "infomercial" and then being able to watch the show without any commercials. Yes! is also a good site to watch old and new shows with a minimum of interruption.

This is how TV began, after all--a single sponsor footing the bill for a show, and commercial breaks were kept to a minimum and you didn't get the constant clutter of a zillion ads per 2- or 3-minute break (which even individual sponsors hate). If you think commercials are taking up more programming time these days, you're right. If you watch old and new series on DVD, you can see this quite dramatically; in the 1960s and 70s, a one-hour drama like Star Trek or The Wild Wild West clocked in about 52 minutes per episode. A half-hour sitcom like M*A*S*H or The Bob Newhart Show was about 26 minutes. Today, a "one-hour" drama like Lost is 42 minutes; a half-hour sitcom about 21 minutes. And, to be honest, I remember the single sponsor's ads better than a zillion (generally loathsome and tasteless) ads clustered in one block.

Being able to watch shows online with a minimum of commercials is far preferable (yes, someone has to pay for them, but there has to be a better way)--but it may be changing. Unfortunately. Says Ad Age:
Starting this fall, Nielsen intends to start making available data that take into account viewing of commercials that run in a particular show, no matter whether they are seen online or on TV. The data will be made available for evaluation starting this September and are intended to become the basis for ad negotiations in February 2011.

But here's the catch: For Nielsen to be able to provide the commercial rating, shows seen online will have to have the same group of commercials that run on TV. If this system were adopted en masse -- and it's not clear that it would be -- online viewing might be crammed just as full of commercials as the more traditional TV-watching experience.
Oh, well, It was nice while it lasted. Guess I'll go back to reading books and watching DVDs.

No comments: