The Value of Content

Content owners have interesting views about what adds value to their product.  Last September NBC  Universal’s Jeff Zucker expressed his disapproval for Apple’s 99-cent price point for TV show rentals (via Reuters).

We do not think 99 cents is the right price point for our content. … We thought it would devalue our content.

His disapproval of the price is understandable — content owners can charge whatever the market will bear.  It’s the wording that caught my attention.

Merriam-Webster defines the word devalue as “to lessen the value of”.  There’s certainly a connotation of “underestimate the true value of” and perhaps that was Mr. Zucker’s intent.  But I think of devaluation in the monetary sense whereby some item actively has its value reduced.  Given that, let’s look at some of the things that apparently do not devalue content:

  • 8-10 minutes of commercial ads at 120% of the program’s volume
  • Station watermarks
  • Show title / airtime watermarks
  • Active popover adverts for other “valuable” content you may or may not give a shit about
  • Stretching standard-definition 4:3 content and passing it off as HD (I’m looking at you TNT)

So content providers like NBC are willing to compromise their programming in any imaginable way as long as the consumer doesn’t attach too low a price tag.

What’s really going on here is that when we watch network or cable TV programming, we’re not really the client.  I recall something I read on reddit awhile back though I can’t find the original comment.  I’ll paraphrase:

If you’re not paying for it, you’re not the consumer – you’re the product being sold.

That’s why media companies don’t want to sell you their programming at a discount price, even if they could profit from volume — they’ve got something far more valuable: your attention.  A pay model inverts their control and that’s the last thing they want.  Yet it’s exactly what many of us yearn for.

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