I am one of those millions of people you're always hearing about who have abandoned traditional cable television and started using the internet for all my viewing needs. Between my Roku box and laptop there isn't much I can't watch when and how I want-with the exception of some live sporting events, for which I frequent my local sports bar. So, I consider myself a bit of an online video connoisseur. I know which networks make their content available in a timely manner and which ones are still dragging their feet. Frankly, the results of my completely informal research are surprising.
MTV is, as far as I can tell, a disaster. Let's take one of my guiltiest pleasures for example: The Real World-Road Rules Challenge. Because I don't watch regular television, I'm not likely to know when a new season is airing or what night it airs, so by the time I was a few shows in, the season was already over. I expected that, once all the episodes had aired and were online, they would be available to watch. Not so.
Instead, I hit a wall. I would click on, say, the fifth episode in the season and get a "Sorry, but this video is currently unavailable" message. All the videos before it would be available (as would the last video in the series) but if I wanted to watch them in order I would have to wait a week until that one became available (and then the next video in line would be "unavailable" and I'd start the waiting process all over again).
This all seemed absurd to me, but that wasn't the end of the frustration. When I actually could view episodes, I came to realize that, after an excruciatingly long and repetitive commercial break, the show would come back an entire segment ahead of where I actually was on the viewing timeline. In other words, I would have to rewind the video every time there was a commercial. This went on for weeks. If MTV knew there was a problem, they did not seem to care.
Meanwhile, over at NBC they seem to get this whole online video business. My favorite show is Friday Night Lights, which airs, fittingly, on Friday night. Needless to say, even if I had traditional cable, I would not necessarily watch it live. NBC, though, makes videos for its shows available the day after they air-so I often spend Saturday morning with my laptop and a cup of tea catching up on the latest happenings in Dillon, Texas. I can do this on Hulu.com or on NBC's website.
MTV is not the only network that suffers from video issues, however. FX's Rescue Me - a show I subscribe to on Hulu - kicked off its new season last month, and when I started wondering why episodes were not showing up in my queue, I realized that FX had gone from making the show available on a 7-day delay to putting it on a month-long delay. A month! (I blame Rupert Murdoch.) Over on Bravo.com, I have not actually been able to figure out the rhyme or reason they use to post full episodes of their shows. Shows like Top Chef seem to have their entire season available while I can never seem to find the most recent episodes of Bethenny Getting Married? (Yes, I admit it. I love Bethenny Frankel.)
Is it not a little odd that MTV, with its youth-market audience, seems to have made online viewing an afterthought while NBC seems to have embraced it so fully? Well, I think I know what they're up to. Networks that tend to play reruns incessantly don't seem to understand the value of building an online audience. These channels make a limited amount of original content, and rerun the episodes all week long, sometimes in marathon form. They don't want you watching the latest episode of any of these shows online when you could be watching it one of the four times a day they rerun the episode on TV.
Frankly, this is stupid. An emerging audience of people like me is not going to watch your show on television no matter how many times you rerun them because we do not have cable. Instead we are forced to become criminals and seek out pirated video on sites like the now defunct NinjaVideo.net.
Of course, this is all based on my unofficial research based on my own viewing habits, but you don't have to take my word for it. At this year's Buying & Selling eContent conference, keynote speaker and president of Blowtorch Media & Entertainment, Richard Hull spoke to this very point. He said that when Gossip Girl decided not to make the last five episodes of its season available online, the number of television viewers dropped and the rate of piracy went way up. By refusing to accept that viewers want to watch how and when they want-and don't necessarily want to pay a cable company an arm and a leg to do so-many channels are alienating their audiences.
Moral of the story: Allow your audience to view your content on your site, and they will; make it difficult for them, and you'll lose the opportunity to monetize their eyeballs, possibly for good.