I love TV and one Sunday afternoon I picked up a book at a dodgy secondhand book store on K Road that completely changed my understanding of it. You see, most new media discussion on TV falls into three broad categories: how people get TV, how people consume TV and how it's made and funded. I didn't know much about the third part until I read this book and parts of it have since been made into a documentary so you can learn about TV, on TV -amazing.
1. How people get TV
There are two main ways you get TV -over the internet like Netflix or via a satellite type set-top box thing like Foxtel or Tivo. That’s about it. There are channel offers and the product stuff, trying to increase the ARPU by bundling with data and mobile phones and things. Newish player like telcos are going to extraordinary lengths to convince everyone that what they have is something different but it’s usually not really.
2. How people consume TV
Then there’s the ‘how people consume TV’ part which is on new devices like mobile and marathoning episodes, on demand viewing, time shifting and that side of things and how it impacts on audience and media buying. Getting warmer and slightly more interesting. Twitter, Twitter Sport and second screen viewing has really revitalised interest in this side of TV and tapping how live viewing with other people in community works.
3. How people fund TV and content quality
Government and private sector funded TV production and distribution. Now this is the really interesting part and I would like to learn a lot more and see more discussion about this side of TV. It’s usually nodded to as ‘quality content’, ‘viewers will pay for quality content’,’advertisers want to work with quality content’.
So what's the book?
Kerry Packer was the master of wrapping desirable, cost effective to produce content in a model that advertisers wanted to buy and consumers wanted to lie on the couch and watch with his invention of one-day cricket. One of the most important things you can do in your life is read the book The rise and rise of Kerry Packer. You will learn how TV actually works and also how to get the government to buy you an $800 million satellite with taxpayer money so you can launch a pay TV network. It’s extraordinary. The documentary Howzat! Kerry Packer’s War is also well worth a watch
Downton Abbey costs $1.5 million an hour to make. According to a Screen Australia report on television funding, the adult drama it supports costs about $1 million an hour. Overall, drama in Australia costs about $550,000 an hour to make, compared with documentaries at $250,000 an hour, a comparative steal.
It costs Australian broadcasters far less to buy shows from overseas. It varies widely, but even if there is a bidding war for the top shows, the upper range would peak at about $150,000 to $200,000 an hour.
If you were a broadcaster trying to please your shareholders, why wouldn't you just concentrate on buying overseas blockbusters instead of making an Australian drama? Well, because the government tells you to; 55 per cent of programming on the main commercial channels has to be Australian, except for the overnight shift when anything will do.
Once you get that part of the equation, things like why Disney paid what it did for Pew Die Pie and how much Tyler Oakley makes off YouTube suddenly make sense. Ridiculous amount of money going through streaming companies for major league baseball live sport rights would seem completely logical to Fanta-drinking Kerry Packer.
Three is the hard part for commercial media and it’s the hard part for branded and owned media like your company YouTube channel or video posts. Products like Google Hangouts suddenly become more interesting to work with when you stop and remember it’s not costing you the 60-100k an hour it costs networks to make a live news chat show.
Three is the hard part. The content. Releasing a re-stickered set top satellite box and bundling it with other services is a little bit interesting but not really.Measuring how audiences behave and interact with content is getting warmer but getting quality, desirable, cost effective content is hard and any discussion about TV without that crucial piece just misses the point.
Further reading: Australia - Pay TV - Historical Analysis - 1994-1997