Those are the basic economics. See, kids? They’re not so scary. The consumer side of the story is actually what’s more interesting. In floating the idea of a commercial-free pay TV bundle, Apple is addressing the elephant in television’s room, which is the fact that lots of people have serious relationship issues with TV commercials.
Don’t take my word for it. Here’s Michael Bologna, managing partner director of emerging communications for the ad-buying agency Group M, from a panel I moderated at The Cable Show in June. “If I could, I would watch TV without any ads. I hate them,” Bologna deadpanned. “But with no ads, there would be no programming and we’d all be playing Scrabble.”
He was exaggerating to make a point. But it’s still a valid point, and anybody who has sampled the experience of television without commercials is likely to agree. As a personal experiment, I’ve been watching commercial-free television for the past several months almost exclusively from providers such as Netflix and Apple’s iTunes. I’ll vouch that once you go there, it’s tough to go back.
Watching episodes from the latest season of AMC’s The Killing via iTunes, sans commercials, produces a gripping, nonstop immersion. Going back to the ad-supported network version, with its predictable interruptions for pharmaceutical and hair-product ads at every dramatic zenith, is torture. Knowing that, I get why Apple has advanced an idea that seems utterly outrageous from the posture of TV industry tradition. It suggests a much better experience, so much so that I suspect a reasonable number of people would be willing to pay the bundle premium that an ad-free television environment is certain to demand.
It’s outrageous, preposterous, disruptive and threatening, yes. But so was the idea of putting Web pages on a little handheld phone in 2007. Look where that got us.
— Stewart Schley, Principal, Stewart Schley Content
Stewart Schley writes about media and technology from Denver, Colo.