What Media (Hasn’t) Done for Me Lately

In the larger scope of things, it’s trivial.  But it’s fast become one of my favorite shows: Downton Abbey.  I’m a sucker for a good costume drama, and when I saw that one of the producers of Gosford Park (perhaps my all-time favorite movie ever?) had another lush upstairs/downstairs sort of drama in the works, it was all over.

I not only watched each episode live on PBS as they aired, I discovered that iTunes was selling the original uncut versions from ITV in the UK.  It was great to be able to get rid of Laura Linney telling me what “entail” entails (as if US viewers don’t have a dictionary or Wikipedia) and to see the drama unfold in the way it was originally intended.  So I joined this great community of viewers and tweeted my way happily through January 2011.  When I found out that it had been broadcast in the UK the previous fall, I figured that they didn’t know how popular it might be in the US and just chalked it up to some sort of an error.

Imagine my surprise when I found out that Downton Abbey series two would be broadcast the same way, despite its large and vocal American following.  Now, instead of being able to follow the gossip and fansites like I did last winter, I must IGNORE THEM COMPLETELY and go out of my way NOT to see them for four entire months.  That’s four months worth of unfollowing, blocking specific people in my Facebook feed, and generally walking around with my fingers in my ears so that the next season isn’t spoiled for me.  It’s going to be a sad fall.

But this all points to a persistent issue for fans and media consumers:

Why can’t we watch what we want the way we want to, when we want to?

E-books and Netflix and cable, oh my.  None of these media industries has come up with a new, customer-friendly method of licensing content in ways that make sense for their fan bases.  It’s a global, hyperlinked society these days… nobody wants to wait the next day to download an episode of a show off of iTunes and miss all the online chatter, nobody has time to wait six months in line at the public library for a book that is relevant to their current needs, and increasingly everyone is sick of throwing hundreds of dollars a year at the cable companies for only about 5 or 6 channels full of content they really want to see.  And the idea of trying to wade through the Internet while avoiding your favorite fan sites because the next series is currently airing in another country seems onerous, if not sadly mean-spirited.

I understand that the BBC (and ITV, I think?) are run off of British people’s taxes, and that premium cable subscribers pay for the development of edgy, cool shows, and that it’s important to pad out book prices to help pay for editing and publicity.  I know all those logical, service-delivery-type things exist and that they are complicated.  If there is a way to reinvent the subscription model, I’d gladly pay a bit more than the going rate to get the content I want a la carte rather than in tiers, or lumps, or not at all for days or months.  I don’t like paying gobs of money for channels or shows I don’t particularly care for, but I would enjoy being a premium fan of a large handful of content that I personally curated and found awesome.

As a consumer, though, I simply get more and more frustrated by these things all the time.  The message that’s being delivered to me is one that says “we don’t care, we’re going to do this digital thing our way and take our own sweet time about it, and we don’t care if we lose you as a customer.”  The first show or channel or network or publisher that decides to make access easier for me as a consumer is going to get all my love and attention, even for the marginal things that they produce, because I know they want me to have the media experience I want to have.

Now the question remains: who will get it right first?

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