Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, But It May Be on iTunes

When NBC announced that it would be releasing the pilot for HEROES for free on iTunes in advance of its broadcast premiere, I made a "squeeeeeeeee" noise of delight that probably could only be heard by Aquaman.

The selfsame Aquaman whose own pilot (which wasn't picked up, unlike HEROES), gloriously, eponymously retitled from the safe 'n' boring MERCY REEF, hasn't left the iTunes top 10 TV Shows since it was posted.

I'm also in love with NBC's other savvy, digital media ploy, to release STUDIO 60 ON THE SUNSET STRIP to Netflix subscribers. My copy's winging its way to me as we speak.

I tuned in late to BATTLESTAR GALACTICA this year and have the entire third season on my iPod.

How great is all this? TV-watching in the age of the digital holy trinity -- Netflix, iTunes, and Holy TiVo -- is a thing of beauty.

There are interesting strategies at work with digital distribution: expand on the moneymaking potential of hit shows by making episodes available for sale after they air; promote and drive early word of mouth on shows that the networks want to be hits; and provide a revenue-generating home for those shows that didn't make the cut.

This last one I find the most fascinating. I hope more networks follow the Aqualead and make more pilots available on iTunes or on their websites. The interest clearly is there; for one, I'd pay to see SPLIT DECISION, whose script I loved but that didn't get picked up by the CW.

Digital distribution also works guerrilla-fashion. GLOBAL FREQUENCY was, of course, the first pilot to turn up on the internets and find popularity and press. Its owners should sell that puppy on iTunes, the perfect place for long-tail content. The pilot for NOBODY'S WATCHING, from a SCRUBS writer-producer, burned up YouTube and got bought for webisodes and script development by NBC.

Why not make more failed pilots available online? Let those who didn't get invited to the fall lineup prom find an audience, one that doesn't need to be the multimillions required to keep a TV show afloat. Recoup a bit of development money. The world's iPods are waiting!


Damion Schubert said...

Even going traditional TV, it's a great idea. I've long thought that the major networks should treat their cable affiliates like the minor leagues. Try out different ideas, and if they do well, promote 'em. If they have only a niche following (like, say, Wonderfalls), demote 'em and see if they can build a little.

Call it the Pilot Channel, and tell me that F/X isn't perfectly positioned to do exactly that.

Kira said...

Hell, yeah, I'd subscribe!

Good point -- FAMILY GUY and THE 4400 found success and new life after going to cable, and it'd sure be nice for nichier, long-tail fare to get a fighting chance. WONDERFALLS, PROFIT, ACTION, FREAKS AND GEEKS...

Shahua said...

Oh how I wish the 'niche' channel were real!

Maybe we would live in a world where Firefly and Brisco County had long happy lives.

Scott the Reader said...

I also thought something they did in the past few years -- inserting DVD copies of pilot episodes of shows in magazines before they aired -- was cool too. I know they did it with Jack and Bobby and Everyone Loves Chris.

Though maybe they decided that there was no real tangible benefit to those shows from doing that, and have gone to ways that actually bring in cash. Because I haven't seen any magazine DVDs yet this year.