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A Moment of Zen About Digital Delivery

15 Mar, 2006 By: Jessica Wolf


Ever since I got my video iPod, I have been watching the video content offered on iTunes rack up and have been waiting patiently for one show in particular.

“The Daily Show.”

It's the one thing I truly lament missing because I refuse to allow myself to have cable.

Comedy Central and Apple's recent announcement that episodes of this show, and its compatriot “The Colbert Report” will be the first subscription-style offerings on iTunes marks an important distinction for this mobile, VOD-laden future we are staring into.

I've already used this forum to talk extensively about how I use my video content on Betsy the iPod. I've already talked about how I quickly discovered that long-form programs take up a lot more space and suck up a lot more battery power than I am willing to yield to my music.

But content like “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” I believe are perfect bits of mobile programming for several reasons.

First of all, it is disposable content. There is, and there will always be for the consumer, a distinction between content we want to see and content we want to have.

I love Jon Stewart. I think I might want to have Stephen Colbert's babies. But I don't really feel a burning desire to — digitally or otherwise — save every pithy witticism that flows from their edgy mouths and brains.

I want to see it. I don't need to have it all the time.

Secondly, these programs, for the most part, are not available on DVD. There's one boxed set of “The Daily Show” centered on Stewart & Co.'s 2004 election coverage. It's hilarious. I watched it. Once.

This thematic approach is a great way to present a packaged option of a show like this; indeed it might be the only way. Even the most die-hard “Daily Show” fan might not need have every daily-news related episode of a season handy on DVD. It's news-based content, moldy after a couple of days. It's disposable.

Finally, without commercials, episodes of these shows are about 20 minutes long, perfect for on-the-move, tiny-screen viewing.

For me, the $9.95 monthly subscription is a great value proposition. It's still cheaper than having cable, and I get to keep up on the show I miss most from not having cable.

But these shows have a short shelf-life. I plan to subscribe, watch and immediately dump episodes unless there is one moment that really sticks out that I know I will want to re-watch or share with other people via Betsy.

That's not my philosophy for shows like “Lost” or “Battlestar Galactica.” Those shows I actually hesitate to download from iTunes now because I want to have them, and virtual storage is an issue. For these, unless I get really antsy over an episode I missed, I am content to wait for DVD, to add their boxes to the stacks in my apartment.

There are plenty of other shows, though, that fit my disposable-content mentality — “American Idol” and “The Amazing Race” immediately come to mind. Closed-ended reality competition programs like these historically do not do well on DVD; some of the fun is gone once you know who the winner is.

But these are both shows that could be real hits in digital delivery during their broadcast seasons.

To me, the future is less about how suppliers are going to deliver content, and more about how consumers plan to manage it.

What do they want to download just to watch quickly? What are they going to want to burn to a disc and use in another DVD player? What are they going to want to own for a little while but maybe not forever? What are they going to want to actually be able to hold in their hands, stroke the beautiful box art and place lovingly into a displayed collection?

These are distinctions that will have as many different answers for different content as there are different consumers out there.

Not every bit of entertainment content is going to be the answer to every one of these questions. Distribution in the digital age can never be looked at as one-size-fits-all.

As consumers fracture their gadgets, their time, their approach to content, suppliers have to be ready to fracture their delivery of it.

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