Oct 15, 2009

The Power of No-Roll


I’m convinced that when historians look back on the early days of the 21st century, they’ll concur that one of the major nails in the coffin of the broadcast television model was the decision to allow iTunes to broadcast entire shows without even the hint of a commercial break.

Because it’s the rare consumer who doesn’t find the experience of watching a show from start to finish without a single interruption completely liberating. Especially when that experience can be had for just two dollars and ninety-nine cents.

Think about it: we’ve never even had that kind of ad-free experience at the movies, where at the very least, five to ten minutes of trailers preceded the main feature. Even DVDs come loaded with can’t-skip trailers and sales pitches before you get to the main menu. But iTunes has no trailers. No “previously on Lost.” No post roll. Nothing but the show itself, available the same week it was first broadcast on television.

Having experienced that kind of liberation, some consumers are taking the next step and realizing they don’t need broadcast TV. It’s happening with the “early adopter” community, time-crunched twenty and thirtysomethings who are concluding that it’s far cheaper to pay $300 a year to iTunes to watch the ten series they like than to pay $120 a month to their cable provider. (Note to Luddites: hooking a laptop to a big screen HDTV is quite simple.)

And while cable spurners are still a rather small percentage of the overall population, at some point the NBA, NFL and other major sports leagues are going to figure out that they can sell their games directly to consumers too, and even more viewers will begin to flee their cable systems for an online a la carte model.

So while much of the argument today seems to center around pre-roll and post-roll and creating compelling commercials that consumers won’t skip or will interact with, I’m afraid the cat has been let out of the proverbial bag: once you’ve experienced no-roll, anything that’s interruptive is going to seem incredibly irksome. We're too busy to put up with it anymore and we'll gladly pay to avoid it, particularly if all we're paying is $2.99.

The only question seems to be how long it takes before this becomes the norm rather than the deviation.

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