Friday, July 06, 2012

Will Amazon expand TV Play option to facilitate ala carte video on demand?

Just noticed that Amazon is now offering a "TV Play" option for future episodes of selected television series like popular series produced by AMC.  This is like video-on-demand for each episode you may have missed of a TV series you may be following.

I noticed this option when I received a postcard from DISH network mentioning a special offer available for DISH customers that were watching some of the original series produced by AMC but now no longer available through DISH (because of a pricing dispute) like Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead and Hell on Wheels.  Since the postcard mentioned Amazon Video as their recommended viewing alternative, I went up on Amazon and noticed the new TV Play option for Hell On Wheels (about the construction of the transcontinental railroad) that we were following on AMC.  So I called the phone number DISH provided on the postcard to see if they had some kind of coupon code and they actually gave me a credit on my DISH account equivalent to the cost of streaming this coming season's episodes of Hell On Wheels using Amazon Video.

Is this one of the first cracks to appear in the armor of the tier-based cable and satellite pricing structures?  If so, I applaud Amazon Video for taking a bold step to offer this service and DISH Network for being concerned enough about their customers to offer the equivalent of a credit for a loss in viewing opportunity created by a contract dispute.

However, I would urge Amazon (and their studio partners) to be a little more reasonable in their pricing if this service is expanded to other channels.  $2.84 per HD episode ($1.89 per SD episode) seems a bit steep for only one episode of one series on one channel. HBO charges even more - $3 per HD, $2.23 per SD episode (at least for Game of Thrones) if you order a full season.  I think they should recalibrate and look more toward the 99 cents per episode price point.

However, if I could order per series for some offerings and per episode for other channels (like a particular program on Nat Geo), I would definitely consider relinquishing most of my cable tiers and go back to basic channels only.  As it is I pay more than $100 per month for America's Top 250 so I can get access to History Channel International but end up watching Netflix most nights  anyway.

I actually prefer to watch episodic dramas on Netflix so I can watch back-to-back episodes, allowing me to follow continuing story lines more closely and identify more deeply with the main characters.  I also don't have to worry about the network skipping weeks and preempting regular programming for things like sports playoffs or political conventions.  If that happens I often lose track of when the series I am watching will resume and miss several episodes all together making it difficult to pick back up where I left off.  This happened to me with "Heroes" and with "Flash Forward", two excellent series but both interrupted repeatedly by network "special" broadcasts of other programming that caused me to become confused about what was happening and lose interest.

What we may really need is to go back to basic broadcast networks that focus on news and talk shows and use ala carte streaming for original dramatic series and educational or edutainment programs.  Sometimes I marvel at technology advancements that end up going full circle and resurrecting older business models.  Years ago when PC networks were first being developed and individual workstations had relatively limited hard drive space, we used to encourage our users to store all of their data on the network server.  Then PCs began to have much larger hard drives and people began saving large multimedia files and our network servers became overwhelmed so we took a step backward and asked people to store only files being shared with others on the central network server and use their local hard drive for their own personal data.  Then cloud services came along and network infrastructure improved so much in transmission speed that now we again urge network users to store their data in the cloud and not on their hard drives any more.  So we are once again almost back to where we started!

Obviously, methods of delivery for video entertainment are in a dramatic state of flux right now and it will be interesting to see how everything shakes out. 
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