In Today’s Shocking Development, Old Media Misunderstands the Internet

So the big news this morning (at least in my corner of the Internet, which I will readily admit tends to ignore things like actual news) is that FOX decided that, since people like watching their network’s shows, and a lot of people do so online, and pretty much everyone is happy with that arrangement, they need to nip that sort of thing in the bud. Basically, starting August 15, viewers wishing to watch FOX programming the day after it airs (on Hulu or Fox.com) will have to sign in, proving that they pay for a cable subscription. Everyone else will have to wait a week before the show becomes available. Right now, only DISH Network is onboard, but the announcement on FOX’s website says that other cable providers should come to some sort of agreement soon as well.

The defense for this move is a rehash of one that’s been repeated an awful lot over the last decade or so – old media is scared of the Internet. This time, it’s the cable companies running for cover – the reasoning goes that, if customers can “cut the cord,” which appears to be the trendy way this morning of saying “cancel their cable/satellite subscriptions,” and simply watch television online, cable companies become less inclined to write networks gratuitous checks for the privilege of airing their programs. To be perfectly fair, some cable channels, like CNN or ESPN, have already enacted similar measures, and ABC has indicated that they are considering doing the same. This policy is a safeguard, making having a cable subscription a month from now a lot more attractive prospect than having one today.

Except that…it doesn’t. Not really, anyway. There are a few holes in this plan, the kind that put that dent on the side of the Titanic to shame. First, obviously, is the fact that only DISH has agreed to anything. Right now, the plan isn’t an incentive to have cable, it’s an incentive to have DISH, which is going to piss off a lot of people paying thirty bucks a month to not see their shows. But the second problem is twofold, and arguably more significant.

I’m at college for most of the year, and, while the school provides cable for the dorms, I don’t directly pay for it myself; the cost is bundled with housing and other fees. So, when FOX asks me for my password to prove I am paying something, I’m going to be at a bit of a loss. But the thing is – and here is where the flaws in the plan really become evident – I’m not going to have to wait a week to watch the show. I’ll be able to watch it illegally online before the next morning.

Look, I prefer to watch things legally. I like Hulu better than Megavideo, and I even got a Netflix subscription. I understand that these shows I enjoy so much are not free to make, and I’m okay with watching some ads or paying a few dollars a month to help support them. But honestly, watching TV online is not difficult. In fact, it’s sort of what would happen if you took the concept of “difficult” and just negated it in every way possible. Seriously, go Google “watch Glee online.” I got 29,400,000 results. They don’t require downloading, or torrents, or really anything a reasonably bright monkey pointed in the direction of a monitor couldn’t handle. And watching television illegally means no ads, and no cost to speak of.

So when I watch television through legal sources, it’s more of a favor than anything else, since illegal viewing is preferable in pretty much every way. I can see the networks’ reasoning, but I don’t think that driving viewers away from even the moderate ad revenue on legitimate sites is really the way to go. People will drift to the easiest venue, and FOX”s policy ensures that that’s not necessarily the legal one. Now, I’m not a television executive, so I’m not the best person to ask for a solution (my best guess would be some sort of financial agreement between cable companies and internet streaming sites), but as a television customer, I’m pretty certain that the one going into effect on August 15 is one of the worst.

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