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Iger’s Ire Justified on Commercial-Skipping DVR

23 May, 2012 By: Thomas K. Arnold

Walt Disney Co. CEO Bob Iger is absolutely correct when he blasted Dish Network’s new Auto Hop commercial-skipping DVR. Advertising is, indeed, critical for great TV shows — or any TV shows, for that matter — to exist. And if we keep finding ways to circumvent commercials, eventually we'll come to the point where the number of eyeballs they attract is so insignificant that advertisers will say, "Why bother?"

There was a point in time when technology was not yet so advanced that everything was in balance. If you wanted to watch TV shows for free, you were at the mercy of the networks (for new shows) and the syndicators (for the old shows). If you wanted to avoid commercials and enjoy your favorite shows with no interruptions, you turned to home video. For a lower price you could rent your show; for a higher price, you could buy a copy. Either way you were no longer a slave to a schedule or a sales pitch, but either way there was a cost attached to this freedom, this perk.

Music file-sharing first brought the concept of free entertainment to the masses, and we were hooked. Morals, ethics and the belief that there is no such thing as a free lunch went out the door. We loved the music but didn't care beans about the musicians or record companies that brought us this music. In effect, we bit the hand that fed us — and we've kept biting and biting ever since. Each new technological marvel — DVRs, streaming, YouTube — brought us another hand, and another opportunity to draw blood.

I blame this something-for-nothing mentality for the slowdown in disc sales. It's not just that consumers keep getting more and more entertainment options; it's that consumers keep getting handed more and more opportunities to access entertainment for free —some of it legal, some of it not.

And while content owners used to have to contend primarily with third-world pirates, now the enemy to the chain of commerce is everywhere, including Silicon Valley.

I applaud Bob Iger's resolve, and even the specter of litigation that is being raised by other fearful content-side executives. But the whole thing is beginning to resemble a game of "Whack-a-Mole" — no sooner do you squash one threat when up pops another one.

What we really need is a collective conscience, an old-fashioned pang of guilt. I've made it a point to no longer switch radio stations during a commercial break or skip the front-loaded ads on YouTube videos.

But I fear I am something of a lone voice. All of us need to collar that destructive dog that lurks within so many of us and train it to not bite — no matter how many tasty hands come before us.

If we don't, eventually we're going to wind up with an empty hand.

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