The Online Box Office: Charging for Online Shows

The days when the Internet was only used for sending e-mails and visiting Web sites have long since passed. Every year, the Internet becomes more and more integrated into our everyday lives. For example, as of late, the Internet has become our new television, broadcasting just about any show or series shown on television for free. In fact, so many people now tune in online rather than on their televisions that networks are wondering if giving free access to their shows online is a sustainable model.

The problem is essentially as follows: With the new push to put even more television shows online, cable companies are questioning if people still have a good reason to pay their cable bills every month. Their concern is understandable; over the past six months, cable company revenues and stock prices have dropped dramatically. Many critics have attributed this to Internet broadcasting that is financially supported solely by advertising. With more and more network shows being broadcasted online, there is no need for people to tune in to their televisions; there will eventually be no need for cable or satellite.

This decline of stock prices, as well as other doubts, has caused television networks to entertain the idea of charging a subscription to their Internet vault of television series. While this may be bad news for all those “Lost” or “Grey’s Anatomy” fans who are too busy to tune in every night, it is a step in the right direction for networks to adjust to the new Internet-TV sensation.

The idea, first proposed by Time Warner Cable, has captured the attention of almost every major television network — and for good reason. Every day millions of Americans tune in to the World Wide Web to watch their favorite television shows. According to comScore, a research company that tracks Internet data, Hulu, a joint-venture video upload Web site from NBC Universal and the News Corporation, counted 35 million views this February — a 42-percent jump in views from January. To put this in perspective, shows like “Lost” would increase their ratings by 25 percent if their Internet views were taken into consideration. With the rapid growth of the number of online viewers, the idea to put a price tag on broadcasts online could bring in some serious dollars for the networks.

At first glance, the idea of charging to view shows on the Internet is just a way for corporate network heads to make an easy buck off the middle class’ fascination with drama. While this assertion may be somewhat true, the proposal actually benefits more than just the network itself. It benefits the economy as a whole.

By charging for online broadcasts, cable companies will be able to access a whole new source of revenue. With this new source of incoming profit, cable and satellite company stocks will rise, which could help the economy recover in a small way. The true beauty of the idea to charge the public to view uploaded shows is that, eventually, the proposal benefits every party involved: the network, the cable companies, even the fans who now cannot watch their favorite shows online for free. This new market of entertainment will open a new source of economic stimulus.

So while the public might be upset that they cannot watch their favorite shows online without subscribing and paying a monthly or annual fee, and while the motivations of this new proposal might be selfish in nature, it is a excellent idea that will benefit the public. With a devastating economic crisis such as the one today, any proposal that will benefit the economy directly or indirectly should be pursued —even if it means paying $9.99 to watch “Scrubs.”

Neil Thakor is a first-year political science major. He can be reached at nthakore@uci.edu.