Tuesday, February 28, 2006

To Download or Not Download

Traditional media wants to make money in new media but still hasn't quite figured it out. For instance, CBS On Demand offers downloads of SURVIVOR: PANAMA for $1.99 an episode.

Despite being signed up for the SURVIVOR e-mail, the arrival of which clued me into this past Thursday's episode, somehow I managed to miss the fact that the new edition started on February 2. When I started watching the February 23 episode, I thought someone must have made an enormous mistake and aired the wrong one, but nope, I was out of the loop. (Apparently all I watch on CBS is SURVIVOR, THE AMAZING RACE, and the NFL. With none of those programs on and a DVR to skip commercials, I was oblivious.)

A visit to the SURVIVOR site informed me that all previously aired episodes were available for download. Ordinarily I wouldn't have considered downloading a TV show; however, SURVIVOR episodes are rarely rerun, and understanding the group dynamics and brokered alliances require seeing every show. I'm a big fan, so what's $5.97 to download three episodes to get me up to speed?

Not much, of course, which is also what you get. First of all, the episodes don't have broadcast quality video, at least in my eyes. The second and third episodes looked less problematic to me, but all exhibited occasional pixellation. The bigger issue is that these downloads are rentals, not purchases. Upon downloading, the renter has 24 hours to watch the episode before it is rendered unaccessible. (Remember the old DIVX versus open DVD debate?) Woe to those who choose to open the file instead of saving it to disk if they want to watch it again. Also, the downloaded file cannot be burned to DVD or put on any portable device.

Now this isn't worth getting bent out of shape. I appreciate that I had the opportunity to watch these episodes--yeah, if I were savvier about things like BitTorrent I probably could have saved my money--but CBS' current model isn't exactly consumer-friendly. I spent almost six bucks to watch three episodes in lower quality video and can't view them again a day later. If the SURVIVOR DVD season sets are any indication, you will be eventually be able to get this season and special features for $50 MSRP or the discounted price of $34-$38. With a 15-episode season, the daily downloads add up to $29.85. (Comparing apples to oranges, I bought the second season of ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT on sale today for $14.99 plus tax. That would have bought me eight SURVIVOR: PANAMA rentals.) Renters like me are paying for immediacy in a big way. Maybe a better solution is having these episodes able to be purchased via the cable box. At least the video quality shouldn't be an issue in that situation.

Speaking of getting in a huff over less than two dollars, iTunes users who are fans of THE RICKY GERVAIS SHOW, a podcast featuring Gervais, Steve Merchant, and Karl Pilkington, are not very happy that the Guinness World Records' most downloaded podcast now costs $1.95 per half-hour show. (The previous twelve episodes were available for free for up to four weeks on Guardian Unlimited.) The majority of user reviews express dissatisfaction with the price point, claiming it's twice as much as it should cost.

I'll be interested to see if the market dictates a price drop. The free podcasts were pretty funny, and I may break down and buy them. If so, there's a better deal to be had on audible.com, where $6.95 gets you "four episodes delivered weekly (maybe more!)"

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