The value of content

It has often occurred to me that TV companies don't make enough of their content, particularly in relation to films. You will often come across a truly great film either sandwiched inbetween soap operas or tucked away at midnight on one of their smaller channels. This was brought home to me again recently when I watched Wong Kar-Wai's Ashes of Time (Redux) on Film 4. It is a sumptuous film (and I haven't seen the original, which film buffs, naturally, say is vastly superior to the Redux version). Watching it I wanted to know more (partly to figure out what was going on, but also because you know it's a film that excites comment), so I browsed the IMDB reference, and also came across these interviews with the director on YouTube.

Now on TV you might get a 10 second introduction from the announcer and that's it. Why couldn't they put together some discussion or analysis programme before a film? They'd be dead cheap to make – you get some film buffs in a room and let them talk. This isn't going to be a massive draw, I accept, but if you trailer it enough it pulls in an extra audience for the film, it makes the showing of the film more of an event. And then you have maybe one of the experts interacting on twitter while the film is showing. Making TV an event is the new name of the game. My feeling though is that broadcasters are generally scared of anything vaguely 'intellectual' and underestimate their audience.

Sports TV has been good at wringing value from its content – as a football fan I used to watch a programme in which Jimmy Hill sat around with four newspaper journalists and they talked about the sports reporting in newspapers for an hour. It has to be the cheapest form of television around, and yet for a certain audience, it's worthwhile.

In a world where content is free and abundant I think there is a bigger message in this, beyond me wanting a film-bore bonanza. So here is my content-value advice: When there is lots of content it makes all content seem devalued, but the way to add value to content is to add more content to it, to provide context and interpretation. And if there isn't something in this for educators, then we're all wasting our time.

9 Comments

  1. So your argument is that TV companies could drive much bigger audiences to late night old films this way? I’m not sure that’s true, and I suspect there’s a reason for the scheduling of Strictly Come Celebrity X Factor and It Came From Outer Space.

  2. I accept that film-buff discussion programmes won’t make Simon Cowell quake in his boots, but my point is that this is content they have already (the film) and by adding extra content to it they could get more value from it. They could run a ‘Sunday night film club’ type series where people _really_ analysed that night’s film (and I don’t just mean they get a load of celebrities to say ‘I think it’s great’). And if not, then maybe others should do it for them – looks at universities…

  3. Didn’t they do this in the past with people like Alex Cox and Mark Kermode introducing movies with a bit of background, context etc? I remember enjoying them but they seem to have long since faded away..

  4. Tv companies are in the business of getting audience share.
    Film-buff discussions content drive most common audiences away ‘cos they don’t provide as instant visual gratification as another piece of tv sensationalism, and delayed gratification is not the fashion of the day.
    Basis are always the same: the common viewer = “Don’t make me think, I am lazy. (You too ;). TV is a lay back medium.
    Unless there is no audience (3AM?), TV channels won’t drive away audiences with stuff that only interest buffs! But at that time is the educational broadcasting! Tough world!

  5. @Jukesie – yes, the Alex Cox series worked well, and was what I had in mind. Trouble is they had rather limited films.
    @Mariano – I don’t think that argument applies in a multi-channel world. ITV2 (or 3) shows the same film _every_ night for a week, and likewise Film4 show the same films over and over. So it’s not about driving away a mainstream audience, but getting a renewed audience for existing content. Currently they are chasing ever diminishing returns (show the same film every night and by night 5 the figures are low), instead of finding ways to make that content more appealing.

  6. I think the flaw in your logic (I’m starting with the premis there is a flaw as TV execs don’t strike me as likely not to have thought of re-doing what has already been done) is that even with multiple channels reshowing the same content, there’s ‘practically zero cost’ TV in just showing the movie again, so even cheap TV is expensive by comparison.
    I’m not a TV exec, but it’s my understaning that they get a license from the content owners to show a film for a certain window of time on a certain media, and I’m guessing that covers the days they re-use the same films over and over.
    So, they milk that investment as far as possible keeping their additional overheads as low as possible – on the basis I asume that they pay for the content to do the work of drawing an audience, and market forces dictate the value of that content in doing that job. They’ve probably monitored the effect of trying to gild the Lilly and find a diminishing return on investment. After all, even a cheap tv discussion format show is going to be ‘expensive’ in relation to the drastically reducing ad revenues in the multi-channel, multi-platform user generated content world today.
    However, I do like your idea – I wonder though if the real opportunity might be for ‘parisite’ media. A parallel channel on a truly cheap format like AudioBoo or home webcasting with ‘programmes’ driven mostly by social media (Twitter) – no infrastructure overheads but relying on the concept of building towards the big event when their viewers switch to watch the film then come back to discuss it etc.
    Could this further undermine the ad revenues for the main media if it took off though and end up completely deconstructing the industry which feeds it initially?

  7. @Nick – that is indeed a safe starting assumption đŸ™‚ Yes, I think you’re probably right, even cheap TV is more expensive than ‘free’ (ie they’ve paid for it already TV). But I still think they’re just being lazy with content here – as I mentioned they manage it for football analysis. I did also wonder if there was a problem around rights – ie in order to show clips from a film for analysis that would count as one of their ‘showings’ so wasn’t worthwhile.
    But, yes, I too think you could have a good parasite media show (maybe individuals, or someone like the Guardian who do a similar thing with their ‘parasite’ sports coverage).

  8. I’m coming to this a bit late in the day, but the new Film4 site launched within the last few weeks, and is designed to provide that expansion out that film buffs want, while also providing information and amusement to those who are just wanting some simple background stuff:
    http://www.channel4.com/film/
    Scottish company designed it, too.
    However, the really exciting stuff will come when, instead of relying on two screens (most people DON’T have a laptop or PC in the same room as the telly) we manage to use Sony’s or the BBC’s new tech from about winter 2010 or early 2011. It allows supplementary material to appear alongside, over the top of, underneath or somehow ‘around’ the filmed content.
    Tons more on this work here:
    http://www.personalizemedia.com/social-tv-reloaded/

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