Fox delays Hulu availability, piracy surges. I can’t say as I’m surprised by this at all. I noticed recently that Fox had suddenly started delaying the publishing of their shows to Hulu from next day broadcast to eight days. They’re not the only network playing hard-to-get with Hulu, either. SyFy has taken to publishing only one or two episodes from the beginning of each show’s season to Hulu and then holding the rest of the episodes in abeyance until the current season is over. Similarly, networks like CBS and NBC publish only a few shows to Hulu and most never even make it online at all. (For those of us who are fans of these shows, it makes it extremely difficult to avoid spoiler information the day after broadcast.)
I understand, to a point, why the media networks do this. They have ratings to maintain to keep their advertisers happy, and so they hope, by limiting (or removing completely) online access to their shows, they can then increase their live viewership and continue to make money from the commercials they run. There’s just one problem with that scenario: we now live in a digital age. Live broadcasts, while not completely a thing of the past, are no longer the only — or necessarily even the best — way for viewers to take in their favorite shows. Technology has made it exceptionally easy to redistribute media through the web by a variety of means — network websites, third-party services like Hulu or Netflix, and yes, even through piracy.
What I think the networks — and their advertisers — are having trouble coming to terms with is the fact that the media industry is rapidly changing and, much like the newspaper industry, are fighting that change kicking and screaming the entire way. By cutting off online access to their programming and attempting to force viewers to watch shows live, they are, in a way, shooting themselves right in the proverbial foot. It takes almost nothing to record a show when it airs, strip the commercials out, and redistribute the show online through any number of means, torrenting being the most notable method. This is a practice that is not likely to stop anytime soon, and the more the networks fight against online distribution, the more money they’re going to lose in the process. People are always going to find a way to get around the system so they can continue to consume media on their own schedule and on their own terms.
Personally, I think the only way the networks are ultimately going to survive is by adapting to this ‘new’ media age and actually finding ways to distribute their programming online in a way that proves beneficial, not only for them but also for the viewers they are trying to reach. There are any number of ways to accomplish this, whether it be by including their own advertising with the shows, leasing them to third-party services like Hulu or Netflix who, in turn, charge a subscription fee for viewing, creating their own online subscription system (which I noticed HBO has already started doing), etcetera and so forth. TV as it used to be is becoming a thing of the past, and I think that online distribution is the way things are headed. It’s very likely that the two mediums can, and will, co-exist but until the networks figure that out, everyone is going to lose — except for the pirates. They’re going to do just fine.