On Nov. 4, Disney released its animated movie “Chicken Little.” You recall the original story: Chicken Little is walking through the woods, oblivious to the world, when she is suddenly hit on the head with an acorn. She immediately believes the sky is falling. Well, in late October, Walt's broadcast division dropped a couple of programming acorns on the heads of its TV affiliates.
ABC announced that it would provide commercial-free versions of “Desperate Housewives,” “Lost” and “Night Stalker” for download and play on the Apple iPod for $1.99. The shows are available to viewers the day after they air on prime-time TV.
You could almost hear the collective gasp from station managers. And if that wasn't enough to cause ABC affiliates to duck and run, The Disney Channel also announced that installments of “That's So Raven” and “The Suite Life of Zack & Cody” would also be available for download at the same price.
CBS was right behind with the announcement that it would join forces with the dark side (also known as Comcast Cable) to make “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” “NCIS” and “CSI” available for replay mere hours after the premier broadcasts to Comcast customers on a VOD basis. The cost? Just 99 cents a show.
Not to be left out, NBC announced it would provide selected programs commercial-free through a new DirecTV service called DVR Plus. Again, the shows will be available for 99 cents just hours after they first air in prime time.
All this has caused many network affiliate managers to run around like our friend Chicken Little, crying, “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!” But this shouldn't come as a surprise to station management. The networks have hinted for years that they'd like to get rid of affiliates as soon as they find a way to reach the same eyeballs. All these new delivery schemes are merely a toe-in-the-water experiment for networks.
Comcast is looking skyward too. The cable giant is scrambling to build super headends, connecting 45 key cities over 19,000mi of fiber. The cost? A cool $100 million. Once the cable company adds what we broadcasters like to call centralcast features, it will have virtually unlimited ability to store and forward video around the country for VOD and portable applications.
But cable had better watch her head, too. As the telcos begin serving up IPTV with high-speed Internet, telephone and VOD, cable is no longer the only game on dry land.
There's a chink in cable companies' and telcos' armor though. Until these relative newcomers can create content, they'll literally have nothing but reruns.
While broadcasters shouldn't panic, it is no time to be complacent either. Broadcasters should immediately begin building archives of what broadcasters do best: local programming. Stations should leverage that exclusive content into every delivery channel possible.
Broadcasters who fail to seek and seize new opportunities could suffer the same fate as our friend Chicken Little. Don't forget: She was willingly lead to Foxy Loxy's den and never heard from again.