Some things you can do to help:
- loss leader your first 2 episodes, and make them really great, to get people hooked. Then, sell per-ep or per-season, or even better, offer both, and make the instant per-season a bit cheaper as a kickback.
- Add advertisement to your videos. Probably 'live' (during, as small texts and such). Best option: make the people on the show pimp some goods. Watch I, Robot. A bunch of companies get pimped. No doubt that padded the payroll a bit...
- Bank on addictive shows. In my personal opinion, '24' is horrible, piss poor drama that happends to keep people watching due to the extremely large 'we're so close to a conclusion so you'll have to wait until the next episode', combined with the fact that the viewer KNOWS the entire story line WILL be over with within a reasonable number of shows (at most, 23). 24 would be a great show to sell this way, I bet.
- State, up-front, that money gained from the show will decide how long it runs. This will definitely cut large swaths in your video getting swapped around the internet (which, no matter how well you try to encrypt or what not, you'll never prevent from happening). Those who really like the show will probably cough up that buck-per-ep just to ensure it stays on the 'air'.
- Possibly allow every buck spent to tie into a voting system, where money spent translates directly into votes. Let people vote on where you take the show. On one hand, it's creatively speaking difficult to write to the whims of the audience, but it might help convince some folk to shell out the buck-per-ep. It might cause nutcases to dump 200+ bucks as a 'donation' just for the voting rights. Such a system would work very well with a small but very fierce audience (firefly comes to mind).
Historic interesting occurrences:
- Firefly FANS managed to scrape enough money together to buy a huge ad thanking the crew and begging fox to continue the show. The show was cancelled for various reasons, including a real crappy timeslot, a very very high production cost per ep, and not a large enough fanbase (though the fans the show did have, me amongst them, still tend to call it the best show -ever- to appear on television). Such shows might work; the fandom will plunk down the cash just to make sure the shows keep coming.
- You WILL get leeched. It happends for plain old TV already, and it'll only get worse. HOWEVER, with offering an easy way to get a top quality feed for little money + various extras such as a knowledge that your money is going straight into more eps + possibly a 'vote' into the direction the series is going, the amount of leeching for an 'online' series versus an 'offline' series will likely be considerably less, simply because the alternatives offered are a lot better.
- You can actually price discriminate quite easily with a pay-per-consumer system. Extras for your money come in the form of more vote rights and less advertisements or maybe better quality. A bottom-of-the-barrel 50c per ep is available. Shitty quality with lots of in-screen ads flying around annoying the heck out of you. 2 bucks for a large quality ad-free version.
- There's no good reason why you can't combine the two models as we have them, right now. Sell straight to broadcasting companies, AND sell direct-to-consumer online. You won't even lose every dollar in areas where the broadcasting company runs the show (fandom, convenience, voting rights, and a shot at keeping a personal copy ready to watch anytime on your harddrive all are reasons to buy into an episode even if you can watch it 'for free' on TV.), and for the many places where show doesn't run, you're in. A lot of series are also 'picked up' from TV by someone: They watch it ones, find out they like it, watch some more, get hooked, and now have a serious craving to watch the earlier series they missed. Not everyone then goes out to buy a DVD. They don't always exist, they are usually extremely overpriced, and probably people wait until season 1 comes round again in a rerun. Now with the cheaper price + the utter convenience of a speedy high quality online download, the incentive to buy your way into the earlier eps goes down A LOT.
You can even satisfy requirements from broadcast companies to get 'first rights' on something by letting them air it first, then offering the stuff online later. That has a major downside though; geeks, fans, and other folk WILL download the stuff inllegally, and once you have obtained an illegal high quality copy there's less incentive to go out and pay for an official legal one later. Still, if some broadcast company offers you big bucks so they can say 'premiere', nobody's stopping you from taking it.
You may be able to kick off this project for series that already made their money. A lot easier to buy into this as a producing company if the likely result is more money, and it's impossible to lose any money on the venture.
ie: I'd pay at least a buck per episode of Top Gear. I know the BBC makes it basically almost completely on government money, and it's even shown on BBC World sometimes (available free for anyone with a satellite dish, and also available by cable for no extra charge virtually everywhere). They also sell it (Apparently) as I've spotted Top Gear on various commercial TV channels, for example on Veronica in the Netherlands.
It's a successful show (judging by the number of years Top Gear has aired), money's already been made, it's being handed out practically for free to BBC World anyways, and no one turns down free bucks + the chance to spread the coverage of your own show. Chances are, provided you set up some neat software or promise to do such, BBC might agree to pay you 10% of the sales proceeds if you set it up for them.
Not to mention that a lot of public TV channels out there are already giving content away for free. The entire dutch public TV network makes all locally produced (dutch) content available completely free on the internet. The BBC might be looking to get in on that, but fear their resale chances get hurt too much as is. Dutch public television doesn't care; their resale value to other countries and other channels is near nill anyway as few people outside those who live in the Netherlands understand dutch.
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