There’s a lot of mixed feelings about Uber’s “Surge Pricing” concept, which described in a nutshell is: if lots of people are trying to get Ubers in a certain region, the price goes up. Economic-minded folks will call it simple supply and demand, whereas others feel the company is attempting to gouge their customers, manipulate pricing, etc. Assuming for this discussion it’s more the former – a simple case of supply and demand – I’ve been wondering about applying a similar model to TV shows.
When Better Call Saul premiered, it launched as the number one series debut in cable history. I was/am very interested in watching it, but without a pay TV subscription, I had no option to see it in/near-real-time. Within hours the episode was available in a variety of Video on Demand (VOD) formats, either for free or a low fee ($2.99 in iTunes at this moment). Older shows in iTunes tend to run at $1.99 per episode.
I’d argue the TV industry, specifically content owners, are missing opportunities right now by having equanimous pricing. The value, to an interested audience, of a piece of content is much, much higher in a short window. Especially for content that has any kind of zeitgeist/cultural value. Being “in” the crowd who sees the premiere matters to some segment of the population. Similarly, older content has less inherent value. Do I really find an episode of WKRP in Cincinnati is “worth” the same as others?
And yes, there is a range – Game of Thrones is $3.99 per episode, for example – but I’d argue there’s a lot being missed out in both directions. Older, library catalogs are worth less, and hot/newer shows are worth more. I’d probably also argue that anything more than 2-ish years old should have free S1E1 viewing to all viewers.
This takes a lot of new-style thinking for an older-style industry. And I see the hazards as well – if content gets priced too high, audiences may well seek out illegitimate sources. But I’d assume there’s a lot of opportunity to be had in a real-time priced marketplace. As content owners seek out new methods of monetizing their huge inventories, I hope to see experimentation in this space. Then again, I’d hate to see a snowstorm make a good show cost 2.8x the normal rate!