Content Owners and Consumers Need Digital Quid Pro Quo

Recent comments from Jeff Gaspin, president and chief operating officer of NBC Universal Television Group, illustrate the one-step-forward / one-step-back mindset plaguing mainstream media organizations.

First, the step forward:

On-demand viewing is a key component of the increase in viewers, Gaspin asserted. “I believe the ability for consumers to sample content elsewhere, whether it’s VOD , DVD or [online] streaming, helps build a new fan base. So when hit shows come back, I believe more people come back than in prior seasons. That has all contributed to growth in cable.”

Using VOD and other technologies to increase awareness and woo viewers to an established platform — such as a TV show — is a progressive perspective. Incorporation of VOD and online access also builds good will with consumers because it works with their usage patterns, rather them forcing them into specific programming at specific times.

But then there’s the step back:

“I think it’s [VOD] a smart offering for the [cable] operators and for us,” Gaspin said. “But a couple of things have to happen: Fast-forward has to be disabled, we have to have dynamic ad insertion, and we have to have legitimate measurement of the viewership.”

Flexible advertising and reliable measurement tools are reasonable requests, but disabling the fast-forward button contradicts the consumer-friendly perspective in the first quote (hence, “step back”). Granted, the same article containing the Gaspin quotes also notes a VOD pilot program that disabled fast-forward and was still well received among consumers, but the overall inconsistency in these messages is what’s troubling. Gaspin seems to understand the value of consumer empowerment to an extent, but the old command-and-control mindset creeps back in when it comes to the details.

That said, the success of digital efforts — whether it’s video-on-demand, online access, or distribution of free ebooks — does require concessions from content owners and consumers. But these concessions need to be marked by consistency. If a content owner, such as NBC, wants to use VOD to drive viewers back to its primary platform, then the VOD material should have all the functionality consumers have grown to expect (i.e. keep your paws off my remote … and my computer … and my e-reader). But in exchange for easy access and availability, consumers shouldn’t be offended by in-episode advertising, visible sponsorship branding, or requests for demographic data (with opt-out options, of course). Ultimately, a reasonable amount of quid pro quo — defined by consistency — allows both sides to take advantage of digital platforms.

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