NBC Universal has announced that they will soon begin pulling all of their programming from iTunes. New NBC content is still being added to iTunes for the time being, but the network has announced it will soon launch it's own service, called NBC Direct, at which point NBC Universal material will no longer be available via iTunes.
This is obviously a huge risk for NBC Universal; NBC Direct material will not play on an iPod. I give it six weeks before some code monkey figures out how to make that happen, but as of now, no iPod. In other words, they have just blocked their content from appearing on the most popular by far portable media player. (Don't worry, guys - tech geeks don't make up that large a segment of Heroes audience. Or Battlestar Galactica's.) It's also a significant investment for NBC - rather than simply deliver a high quality downloadable video file to Apple for them to put up on iTunes, they now have to actually host all that video somewhere. That's a lot of video. I'm thinking many, many servers in a series of great big rooms.
But here's the kicker: NBC Direct content will contain commercials that you can't fast forward through. You download the show, you watch the commercials - at least for the seven days you're allowed to watch it before the file self-destructs.
Maybe this model will work for them; I don't know. It sure sounds fishy. It also seems emblematic of a larger problem: no one has yet figured out how to make money in the post-commerical era. And make no mistake about it: we are in the post-commercial era. Unless you're watching a live sporting event, between iTunes and the DVR there's really no reason to ever watch a commerical again.
I don't want to sound triumphal here - I have no vested interest in the commercial era ending. In fact, a good deal of my income and therefore the health and well-being of my family hinges on the commercial era continuing. But, by and large, I think it's done. It's time to realize that and move on. Just because you studied something in school doesn't automatically make it an eternal truth; it just happened to be the truth at the moment you were in school. I realize I'm painting with a pretty broad brush here but I stand by that overall sentiment. It's a lession the RIAA should have learned.
What I think we're really seeing here is typical human resistance to the fact that sometimes shit stops working. It just stops. There can be a one reason, a hundred reasons, or no good reason but every now and again shit stops working. Business models stop working. Governments stop working. Religions stop working.
Sometimes, the shit just stops working.
That doesn't have to be problematic in and of itself. It's just the way of things. But the real damage happens, the real chaos is unleashed when people try to force the issue, to willy-nilly prop up the failing business model, economic theory, government, or religion. Sometimes the damage this causes is inconsequential. If NBC fails in their little experiment no great harm will be done. Sometimes, though, the damage is catastrophic: we start wars to prop up the oil economy and to support the idea that a massive, high-tech military capable of obliterating entire sovereign nations with the touch of a button can be a force for good in this world. A multi-million dollar denial industry has been created to convince us we don't need to do anything about global warming. Brain-damaged children are slandered to maintain the status-quo of our ramshackle healthcare system.
It never works. Things fall apart, the center cannot hold. So be it. New centers form soon enough. You wouldn't (or shouldn't) govern your life like that, constantly clinging to outmoded behaviors that have long since ceased to do you any good if they ever did in the first place. There's a word for people who do that and it isn't complimentary. I can't say I've learned many things in my nearly forty years on this planet but I have learned this: anyone - anyone - who tries to sell you on some Rube Goldberg plan designed to simply maintain the status quo is doomed to fail. Doomed. This is an absolutely scalable truism: it works on a personal level up to a corporate level all the way up to a governmental level. The harder you have to work to resist change, the more complicated the scheme you need to prevent it, the more inevitable that change is.
Remember this the next time you're in a meeting with your boss and he outlines some absurd reason why the company can't take a necessary step to adapt to a changing marketplace. Remember this as we head full bore into the silly season, when presidential aspirants will bombard you with Very Importan Reasons why we can't overhaul our health care system or critically examine why the United States is an imperial power and should it continue to be one. Remember this.
Sometimes, the shit just stops working.