I was surprised to hear that Jericho will be back on the air. All it takes to save a television program, apparently, is a whole lot of peanuts. The first thought that went through my head was to send the honey roasted variety to Fox. How much will it take to bring back Firefly and Arrested Development? I’ll be more than happy to buy the first jar.
But Jericho coming back raises some interesting points. Fans have begged networks to keep or bring back shows in the past, usually to no avail. Unless DVD sales, or reruns, are surprisingly strong (as in the case of Family Guy), programs don’t get a second chance. Firefly, arguably the best sci-fi series in the last decade, only lasted 12 episodes. This in spite of a massive movement to bring it back. Arrested Development, another fantastic television series went down, even though there were coordinated efforts from fans to keep it on the air. What has changed? Why did the peanuts work?
A few things have changed. When Firefly was pulled, iTunes only offered music. iTunes movies and television programs were still in the future. Network suits didn’t know that people would be willing to pay $2 for a single episode. Now networks have multiple avenues to distribute their content. And they have multiple avenues to bring in revenue.
Consider this, according to several sources (sources on the Internet, so take it with a grain of salt), an average episode of Firefly cost anywhere from 1.3 to 2 million dollars to produce. That means you need a lot of viewers in order to charge premium prices for commercials. But how many die hard fans are out there? How many would be willing to pay 50 cents for an episode? Or a dollar? Or five dollars? Firefly was 50 minutes of quality entertainment. I pay almost $10 to go watch a movie which runs 2 hours, so for me, $5 seems a bargain. These are characters I love, story lines that are always entertaining, a universe that just begs to be explored. How many other fans are out there that would be willing to cough up? You would need 400,000 to completely pay for the episode, but the beauty of it is you don’t need to completely pay for the episode. You only need enough to pay for the difference between what the episode costs, and what the network brings in on commercials. If the network makes 1 million on commercials, and it costs 1.5 million to make, then 100,000 donors breaks even. More returns money to the studio.
How soon will it be before we see a mashup of commercial television and public television? Public television relies heavily on donations from “viewers like you”. I spent several years calling my local public television station during the Red Green Show, so that my dollars would go toward that highly entertaining program. Why not do the same for commercial television?
But the question gets raised, what would the donors get? Would they get to watch the videos commercial free? Would they get extended scenes that the ‘regular viewer’ wouldn’t get? Surely you have to offer them something extra, right?
No! They would get more episodes of their favorite TV program, that is what they would get. I’ll sit through the commercials. I’ll pay when I know there are 20 other people who are ‘freeriding’. I would be happy because the Bluths would be back on the air. Or the browncoats would ride again. Others might pay for their shows, shows which I’m not willing to fund. But the end result would be shows that are popular would get a leg up, and hence a longer life than those that aren’t. Instead of network executives deciding what gets the ax, viewers could weigh in, even if just a little.
More and more users of content are getting a voice. Jericho gets a bit more time to try to win people over. I hope that when the next Arrested Development, Firefly, or Freaks and Geeks comes along, there will be a model in place that allows fans to put their money where their mouths are, and help the good stuff rise to the top.