In this issue’s jumbo-sized report on digital TV in the U.S. and the U.K. (it’s all you ever needed to know, and it starts on page 70), it says that A&E has no plans to sell ads any time soon on either of its U.S. digital services – Biography or History Channel International. I repeat, no plans to sell ads. In the same report, Charlie Humbard, Discovery’s honcho for digital, says ‘None of the digital networks are going to have what Nielsen accepts as a viewer base for ad sales for years.’
Well, how sad for those broadcasters. How sad for the license fees. At the same time, how marvelous for group number two.
There are two groups of factual/doc producers out there. First, there are the industrial, commercial producers; folks who are equal parts creative and businesslike. (Like Greystone for example, on page 38: not just a production entity, but a video company, a publisher and a retailer.) Like the broadcasters, cable is their business too. (Emphasis on business.)
And then there’s group number two. They can be a bit exasperating, speaking with my business-writer hat on, but one can’t help love them. They wish commerce wouldn’t mix so much with their art, and they complain about it. The effort they put into complaining only underscores that they honestly believe another model is possible, and for that we love them. (Pity them, but love them.)
It’s for this second group that digital is exciting. The branded nets are willing to forsake profit on digital for awhile. (Make no mistake, it’s not altruistic. They haven’t got much choice if they want to stake out some turf to protect it from the other guy.) So producers, throw back all those proposal rejections based on inability to garner advertiser interest. There isn’t any, so what does it matter? Disregard any rebuff that starts with ‘This isn’t right for our demographic’ because calling groups of viewers this small a ‘demographic’ is a serious misnomer. (I can hear it now: ‘Well, I’m not certain this would be of interest to a couple of thousand people in Ohio who might see it.’)
Stop me before I belt out my soulful rendition of ‘A Whole New World,’ but let me say this. For producers out there who feel they’ve been unable to get on American television because they’re not commercial enough, this is an open window, for a limited time only. The people buying and commissioning for these services are going to be beleaguered and flat broke – take full advantage. Be professional, absorb their reality, make their lives easy for them, and you’re in like Flynn. Somewhere, someone with the right equipment on or around their tv might see your stuff on the air. (Don’t ask how many someones, or exactly where, and with what technology – that’s a different editorial.)
Of course, at the risk of sounding redundant, be prepared to work on the cheap… But, hell, if you’re in group number two you’re used to that anyway.
Mary Ellen Armstrong