Let Me Pay For TV Online – An Open Letter

Game of Thrones is quickly becoming the most pirated series of all time. I was contemplating why this might be, and ended up arranging my thoughts in the following open letter.

Hi. My name’s Justin Pot, and I’m one of those “young viewers” you talk about during your meetings. I know, I know: it’s hard to think of us as individual humans with freewill instead of as statistics that determine your corporate fate, but stick with me for a moment.

I like watching some of the shows you guys put out. Community, Parks and Rec, Mad Men and Game of Thrones are among my favorites, and all add something valuable to the Zeitgeist of popular culture and bring happiness into my life.

Here’s my point: I have never, and likely will never will, pay for a cable subscription. I might be willing to pay for a few TV channels or TV shows on an al le carte basis, but you are never going to persuade me to pay for a cable subscription that includes channels I’ll never watch. Put simply: I want to pay for the content I’ll actually watch and not subsidize crappy channels or reality shows.

I know what you’re thinking: “Well, you’d never be willing to pay for any content under any circumstance, you pirate.” To which I say: yarr. Also: you’re wrong. I donate hundreds to public radio every year, something I’m not even remotely required to do. And I’d be happy to pay for access to my favorite TV shows.

You make that hard. I can’t buy any episodes from season 2 of Game of Thrones in any form right now, and online streaming is limited to those who already pay for cable. HBO: you don’t even offer an online-only option.

So here’s the deal: offer your shows on an al le carte, subscription basis and I’ll happily pay to watch them, particularly if there are no commercials.

This is usually the point where people threaten to pirate the shows unless media companies give them the deal they’re looking for. Judging by how frequently shows like Mad Men and Game of Thrones are pirated, many people make this argument.

I don’t think I have to. The truth is, if I no longer had a way to access any of your shows, my life would go on. There is plenty of free, high-quality entertainment that is in all honesty probably better for me intellectually than your content. Public radio, high quality YouTube channels like Crash Course and Ze Frank, and Ted, just to name a few. Plus I can, you know, go outside, read a book or take part in an actual conversation.

My point is this: television used to demand most of the free time of Americans. It doesn’t any longer. Piracy isn’t the primary reason for that. Social networks, gaming and online video are all eating into the time we’d previously spend mindlessly watching your content. Last year millions decided cable was no longer worth paying for. Pulling your shows from the Internet is going to change that: it’s going to make your shows irrelevant.

Piracy is not your primary enemy: the shear amount of choice we all have is. If you’re not going to make it easy for me to access your content, I’m not going to bother. I love TV, but not enough to pay for a service I don’t need.

Stewart, Maddow and the real problem with cable

During the Rally To Restore Sanity Jon Stewart focused on how America’s media in general, and cable news in particular, exaggerate partisan divides to an absurd degree.

“The country’s 24 hour political pundit perpetual panic conflictinator did not cause our problems,” said Stewart, “But its existence makes solving them that much harder.”

Conservative pundits largely ignored this criticism, because it adds nothing to their “us vs. them” narrative. Liberal pundits didn’t feel they had that luxury.

Terrified of being lumped in with the likes of Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, MSNBC’s liberal talking heads quickly went on the defensive. As an olive branch, of sorts, Jon Stewart appeared on MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show” to clarify his points. Here is the full, uncut interview:

I like a lot of what Stewart says here. His inability to not control the way his creation is interpreted reminded me a lot of adventures I and my friends experienced in college.

But I don’t think the focus on left-versus-right controversies is the problem with the American media. I think it’s a symptom of a deeper issue: the almost complete non-existence of international political news on those channels.

American news networks do cover the rest of the world, occasionally. If there’s a natural disaster, for example, or if America’s president/army is visiting/invading a given country.

Beyond that, though, international news is a novelty here. You’ll certainly never see an in-depth discussion of Nigeria’s economic policies, unless of course they have a direct impact on gas prices here in America (and you can bet the gas price narrative will be what dominates the story.)

Changing this would help in two ways. First, covering a planet’s worth of news leaves little time for the sort of talking head nonsense Stewart is complaining about.

Watch CNN International, then contrast it with CNN’s American broadcast, and you’ll quickly know what I’m talking about. Even better: watch Al Jazeera English right now. I guarantee you’ll see more substantive reporting in a half hour on Al Jazeera than you will watching CNN, Fox or MSNBC for two full hours.

So covering international news reduces the amount of time a network has for nonsense. Beyond that, though, international news could give Americans context for news happening in America.

Learning about international politics puts one’s own nation into perspective. Lacking this perspective, Americans tend to look at their policy choices in a vacuum. It is this vacuum, I believe, that allows the political environment to become so toxic.

Calling Obama a communist and Bush a fascist seems silly when you compare them to the way real communists and real fascists are behaving right now. Real international coverage could help point this out.

Overall I thought Stewart did a very good job of expressing his point of view, both during the rally and in this interview. I just wish he, and the rest of the American media, did more to tell Americans what’s going on outside their comfortable bubble of a country.