I was lucky enough to get a DVR back in 2001, and I’ve enjoyed a largely commercial-free television experience since then. But I’ve always known my ad-free days are numbered. On the one hand, there’s the Web, where pre-rolls, interstitials and sponsored ad banners are pretty common. On the other hand there are DVRs themselves, and the encroaching interests of content owners who are looking for ways to disable recording features to preserve their revenue streams.
First came that network-DVR precursor known as Start Over, offering viewers the opportunity to rewind to the beginning of some live programs, but without the ability to fast forward after that. Now comes the MPAA’s proposal for selective output control (SOC), which would allow service providers to shut off the ability for a DVR to record content around some early-release HD movies.
There’s a lot of fuss and muss around the MPAA proposal, but frankly it’s probably all for nothing. Even if the MPAA doesn’t win this fight (the CEA has come out against the proposal), content owners aren’t going to let everyone watch good stuff for free (or free plus cable/telco subscription) without finding a way to include commercials. Even if, at some point, producers start demanding the use of SOC for regular TV shows, eventually consumers are going to end up giving ground. There are some shows that folks will just turn away from if they have to watch scores of ads. But consumers aren’t going to give up on every show, even if DVRs stop working altogether. (And they won’t; they’ll just “evolve”.) TV is too convenient, and we like our episodes of Lost and CSI far too much.
It’s fun to whine and complain about the MPAA, but the old cliche is sadly true: there’s no such thing as a free lunch. To mix a metaphor, we can only hope the pendulum will stay swinging on our side for a while longer. Eventually we’ll have to start watching commercials again.