Now I confess that I’m an avid fan of sci-fi and fantasy programmes, so back in July 2011 when I saw a new series called Teen Wolf, loosely based on the fairly mediocre 1985 Michael J. Fox movie, was due to air, I was excited to see whether it would be any good.
It was a pleasant surprise that 12 weeks of highly entertaining, amusing and exciting TV followed. In 2012 another dozen gripping episodes followed. A few months later I was pleased by the announcement that season 3 was to be extended to 24 episodes.
Sadly, the next piece of news was not so positive: Sky would not be picking up the 3rd season of this brilliant series.
I contacted Sky to express my disappointment at their decision, as I felt this let down their fee-paying customers who had been enjoying the series.
An Unfair Practice?
I have long been under the impression that when Sky buy a series, they tend to negotiate permanent rights to those series. I suggested that, if they had no intention of picking up further seasons, holding onto the rights for series 1 & 2 was unfair, as this prevented any other UK network from picking it up. Who wants to buy the rights to season 3 if they cannot also buy seasons 1 & 2? Sky declined to comment on contractual matters, although they did apologise for my disappointment!
Why did they not pick up season 3? Whilst I do not know for certain, it was about this time that entertainment site SeenIt reported that Sky had extended its Football League deal until 2018. Is it possible they had spent so much on acquiring those rights that they economised in other areas? Were those of us who do not get very excited by sport effectively subsidising those who do?
A Risky Strategy?
Of course, I can always buy the series on iTunes – but at $20-30 per season that’s a fairly heavy hit on my wallet.
I am not going to suddenly leave Sky in a huff just because they discontinued one show I was particularly enjoying: there are plenty of other shows on Sky that I enjoy. But it certainly is true that one of the main reasons I signed up with them in the first place was because they had a monopoly on sci-fi and fantasy shows.
As time goes on, I notice that increasing numbers of these shows are on other channels, e.g. Gotham is on C5, The Vampire Diaries on ITV2 and the recent remake of The Tomorrow People was on E4. Even series such as the The Strain on Watch or Haven on Syfy are available via Virgin Media or via Sky’s Now TV at £9.99 per month (which is cheaper than being a subscribed customer). So, if Sky spends too much money in a bidding war with BT for sports content and underinvests in programming that interests the rest of their customer base, they may find that sooner or later long-term customers start cancelling their subscription.
There may be a question for the regulator, Ofcom, here: Should any company be allowed to hold the rights to a series in perpetuity?
But more concerning perhaps is whether MTV (who produce the series) are showing any business sense. Did they really get so much money out of Sky to make it financially worthwhile excluding the possibility of selling Teen Wolf to any other channel?
A Fairer Model
Would it not be a fairer and more profitable business model to sell “first view” rights, i.e. that a channel or company has exclusive rights for, say, 6 months or a year. After that time, the exclusivity expires and other channels can pick up the series. This would still give the channel that bought those rights a competitive edge, i.e. viewers who are desperate to see new episodes of their favourite shows will subscribe to that channel.
The advantage of this fairer model for the producing company is that they would make more profit. Viewers who do not hold a subscription to that channel may get a chance to see it at a later date when it is picked up by a different subscription service or non-subscription channel.