A Second Wind for Paid Content?

Paid content was seriously out of vogue for a while, but right about now it seems due for a comeback. As TV distributors, starting with cable companies, feel enough pressure on their businesses to entertain ideas of “TV Everywhere,” and consumers become more aware of the costs of digital goods, I think we’re headed toward a fresh set of legs for paid online video.

Besides iTunes, the long-time paid video model, subscription systems for premium content (like MLB.tv) and ease of use to library content (like Netflix Watch Instantly) are becoming seriously appealing. And paying for only what we want to watch has more resonance than ever before. These days we identify more with shows and stars than with networks, given the rise of social media, celebrity culture and other modern tools for fandom. And ever-more-digital-savvy consumers seem to have general awareness or even sympathy about how free content diluted the news business model, so they may just be willing to open their wallets.

TV distributors like Time Warner have picked the right climate to offer a souped-up, subscribers-only version of Hulu. They still have to execute, sure. And if someone were to come along with the same service for free? Well, the paid business model is hard to defend. But right at this very moment, the timing could be exactly right for digital paid content.

If it sounds like I’ve rehearsed this argument before, I have — because I wrote it up as a longer feature for our new paid research service GigaOM Pro. (I also honed it with the help of the formidable bloggers Mike Masnick and Robert Seidman before writing it up, knowing they’d poke holes in my reasoning. Thanks for the feedback, guys.) And yes, in a way this is a pitch for our own paid content offering; you can’t read the full version without signing up for a yearly subscription. But if you have comments from just this slice, please let me know here.

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