Sustainable business models, and why ABC has LOST their way

lost-logoIf you’re wondering about sustainable business models, bear with me while I rant about ABC’s free episode streaming, or just skip the first bunch of paragraphs to the Sustainable Business Models heading.  Ohterwise bear with me, I’ve got a couple lung-fulls to spend talking about why I’m not having the best time I could be having finally watching LOST.

After years of resisting, I finally decided that I should watch LOST and catch up on everything I’ve been missing (that damn near everybody’s been telling me about).  I’m watching it straight through from Season 1 on – and I’m afraid I have a few complaints about how they’re handling their free episodes.

First of all, they’re using the Move Media Player, and in the FAQ it states that there will be 4 commerical breaks for an hour-long show, and 2 for a half-hour show.  ABC has tuned it to be 5 or 6 commercial breaks it seems.  If they want to show more commercials, that’s fine with me, but at least update the FAQ:

Do I need to watch all of the advertisements?
You can’t advance the episode beyond an ad break until you have watched the ad for at least 30 seconds. The advertisements are placed at three breaks during an hour-long show and two breaks for a half-hour show.

I’m not sure if its just a problem with their setup or if they’re doing this on purpose – but some episodes are actually 2 hours long – one hour with 6 commercial breaks, and then the same episode without any commercials.  It seems to me that they’re doing this so they can get more commercials in the beginning to overcome some sort of constraint, perhaps one imposed by Move Networks.  I don’t mind watching commercials if they didn’t resort to the whole “click to continue” tactic that takes your watching experience offline and gets out of full-screen mode, returning only after the commercials are done.  I much prefer the way hulu does it – it feels so much more respectful to the viewer, and I find that instead of clicking the mute button and zoning out for 30 seconds, I actually don’t mind watching the whole commercial on hulu.

Second complaint – why run ads for LOST during LOST?  In fact, why run ads that extend past the promised 30 second mark and keep playing.  AND, why run ads that explain all the secrets of several seasons of LOST I haven’t seen yet, while I’m watching those seasons?!  Thats just disrespectful. Spoilers, spoilers, spoilers.  I’ve seen a handful of episodes from different seasons, so I’m not expecting a completely unspoiled experience.  But common, this is just too much.

Third complaint – LOST is the kind of show you want to pause and inspect each of the HD frames for clues and whatnot.  But the Move Media Player zooms out to a commercial snapshot and a mini-frame of what you were watching instead of just pausing.  So no can do there.  This’ll make a man want to download the episodes using bittorrent or any other means possible, instead of watching them on

Final complaint – the player is just unstable and the only platform I’ve been able to get is to play reliably is in Safari on my MacBook.  It works so unreliably on my Windows Vista PC hooked up to my TV that my frustration level sometimes prevents me from finishing an episode without going back to my MacBook.  Argh is all I have to say.

Sustainable Business Models

I’m really trying to be a good guy and to suffer through all their commercials so they can justify it to themselves and earn some monetary compensation from their sponsors.  Having built a company that takes advantage of the advertising-supported content model, I understand the need to do all this.  But haven’t they learned from the Web 2.0 “revolution”?  Pay attention to the Users.  Make decisions based on what’s important to the Users.  Moreover, the decisions that are mutually beneficial to you and the Users are the ones that will build sustainable, profitable business models.  People are too intelligent, even if its instinct mistaken for intelligence.  Cheat and immediate reward will backfire in the long-term.  Honesty, transparency – making the Users realize that you’re doing something for them because they need to do something for you – is paramount to keeping them.

That’s what Google does – they give away a lot – and gain a lot.  They may track us, we may be paranoid about their intentions. However, regardless of what we think, they have built an industry of companies that are supported by AdSense.  They’ve given us tools that make so many people’s lives easier.  Even if we choose to think of them as an even behemoth in the making, they’re doing the right things in a way that makes sense to me.  And they’re buying companies that may not be making money right now – but they’re buying them because they add value to their users.  YouTube is a prime example, Google struggles to monetize it right now, but eventually they’ll figure out how to do it.  In the meantime, they’re content with letting their users reap the rewards instead of jumping into a serious and foolish effort to monetize it at any cost.

Facebook is facing this problem right now too.  They’re giving users so much value, people are enjoying (and being addicted to the service in some instances) – because they get so much out of it.  They haven’t been able to monetize it right now, and they’re desperately searching for the right way to do it.  But at least they’re unwilling to compromise on the things (I hope) they’ve learned from the Web 2.0 user-centric revolution.  They could throw interstitial ads at us, they could build a pay-to-play model, they could over-saturate the service with ads like MySpace has.  But that won’t make people happy, and that’s what’s important.  If they make the Users happy, and figure out how to do it so the Users make them happy as well, the service will last and make them money.

In any case, that’s the way the cookie crumbles, and I hope ABC will find their way.  I hope Facebook finds their business model.  I know folks that can come up with mutually-beneficial business models (those that get the companies paid and make Users happy at the same time) – are the folks that going to create the most sustainable, valuable companies in this business climate.

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2 Responses to “Sustainable business models, and why ABC has LOST their way”

  1. Matthew Helfgott Says:

    I completely agree with you, I love Hulu and Southparkstudios because their ads are quick and aren’t obnoxious. I don’t watch any of the network sites but what you’re describing sounds awful, people don’t mind watching commercials even on crap they pay for as we’ve seen with cable so why not just stick in 1 at the beginning and 1 every 15min following? People will get through the episode quicker to just watch another one! Also wouldn’t the money they’re making on the internet be even better than what they’re getting from cable since they don’t have to give a cut to the provider? I’m really hoping we can cut out the middleman with the internet so the networks and the viewers can all be happier. Unfortunately the major networks are all saturated with fatcats that just want fast big numbers and never take the time to aim their shots so we’re probably going to lose out in the end again.

  2. Ivan Tumanov Says:

    Yes, I agree with you about Hulu and SouthparkStudios – I wouldn’t even care if their ads were longer or more frequent, as long as I don’t have to get uncomfortable and click a mouse button just to prove to them that I’m paying attention. Having to do that totally ruins the mood, destroys the show as viable date-watching-material, etc, etc. If I like the show, I’m gonna pay attention to the commercials because I’m paying attention to what I’m watching. If anything, I think ABC is making people pay LESS attention to the commercials.

    I don’t even mind them making whatever money they have to off the show, good for them if they can monetize it without making it unbearable for me. But the second they make it unbearable, they pressure users to get the content elsewhere. The only reason I’m not torrenting the show is because I respect the need to sustain this content model. If the content is not available for streaming from the content owner, then I would either buy the DVD or download the content from somewhere else. For shows that are on hulu, I don’t have to make that decision – I watch, consume the ads like a good boy, and everybody’s happy. So really, if these guys ran any focus groups, they would probably know that putting content on hulu is a good way to make quick money off it. Don’t know why some content isn’t available online at all, except illegally. Weird.

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