Please let me give you money

Last week someone tweeted about how good the BBC iPlayer is and I got very angry.

The iPlayer is (despite the Apple-esque name) the BBC’s foray into providing its content in a user-friendly, online manner.

The Beeb has its own version of TVNZ’s defunct charter (well, more properly TVNZ had a version of the BBC one) which they have chosen to interpret as requiring the BBC to make its content available to Britons in any manner they can. No limits on this service – that’s the benefit of having a TV tax that funds one free-to-air provider I suppose.

Although I’ve got a red passport still, I can’t see the iPlayer because I live outside the UK. Yes, there’s a global version of the iOS app, but I can’t get it because it’s not available in the New Zealand app store.

It looks lovely. Not only can you search and watch TV shows but you can queue them up so you have a set “channel” if you like. Some real thought has been put in to making it user friendly and worthwhile.

Here’s the thing – I would pay for access to the content. I would. I would help swell the BBC’s coffers by giving them money which they, in turn, could use to make more television programmes which I would then pay for.

Unfortunately they don’t want my money.

Netflix is in a similar position. It too cannot approach me directly, cannot sell me content legally because of the asinine TV rights model which sees programmes sold to regional players who on sell to local networks who onsell…

I’m reminded of the PC channel wars of the late 1990s when Dell entered the market. Forget Dell’s current market position (PCs are dead, didn’t you know?) – when it arrived on the scene Dell swept the old world order aside.

A former head of HP New Zealand once explained it to me like this. HP doesn’t sell PCs to customers, it sells them to a regional distributor. The distributor doesn’t sell PCs to customers, it sells them to a local distributor. That distributor doesn’t sell PCs to customers, it sells them to a local retailer (a VAR or “value-add reseller”). That VAR doesn’t sell them to customers, it sells them to a retail partner (a “shop”) which finally sells the PC to the customer.

Every link in the chain “adds value” by which of course we mean cost.

Compare that with Dell’s model which was to simply sell computers to customers. Dell wouldn’t even build the computer until someone wanted it, which meant it never had that panicky moment when one model doesn’t sell particularly well and you’re stuck with a warehouse full of them.

This is the TV market as we have it today, except for one important difference. I can get my TV for free within minutes of it airing in the US or UK or Guatemala because I can pirate it. I don’t have to wait until the channel finally gets round to delivering it to me – I can get it myself.

This poses a huge problem for the people who make and sell television content in a way that never occurred in the PC market. It was never easy to parallel import a PC but it’s child’s play to parallel import a TV show.

Several people told me to pull my head in and just use either a VPN service or some kind of DNS work around to get to the content I want, but I refuse to do this. In effect I would be lying to a company (committing fraud in my view) in order to give them money and thus support a business model that is failing. I’d rather they acknowledge the world has moved on and simply let me pay them directly for the content. That’s obviously where all this is going so why not just get out of the way and let me give them money?

A year ago, Netflix accounted for one third of all US internet traffic. Today it’s closer to half. Netflix is paying content makers to provide TV shows which it will air directly to customers.

Netflix is bigger than piracy and if the TV content makers don’t hurry up and figure out that we want to watch television and are willing to pay for it, then the problem they face is one of extinction, pure and simple.

Quite where that leaves television in New Zealand is a vitally important issue. Television is married to local culture in a way that no other medium can quite claim and if we’re to continue to have a local TV service we have to figure out a way to fund it. Personally I’d rather pay for that than pay for a dodgy VPN provider just so I can watch television.