Hauling Like A Brooligan

Stephen Gallagher


The Guardian today quotes Tony Cohen, CEO of Fremantle Media, in a call for a micropayment system to cover the downloading of new and catch-up TV programming.

“Cohen, revealing details of Fremantle Media’s submission to the Digital Britain report, said there was a case to look beyond the current charging mechanisms for TV shows on-demand – which start from about 99p per show – and look “afresh” at the potential of micropayments.”

I’d go for this. 99p is too much to pay for something the other guy got for free. But if the cost is negligible then you don’t hesitate, and the idea of paying pennies instead of watching an ad makes total sense. I hate ads and I wouldn’t miss the 5p – I think nothing of burning a 30p DVD to watch a downloaded show.

As to the practicalities of it, pirates have already tested the model for a foot-dragging industry whose first response to the idea of micropayments was “but that’s far too complicated,” before coming up with their latest unworkable piece of Digital Rights Management software.

Until it emerged that the site wasn’t as legal as it claimed to be, I was signed up with a Russian music download service that operated a beautifully simple micropayment system. I paid them 20 quid and then every time I downloaded a track they deducted a few pennies from my account, until the pot was nearly empty. Prices were set so low that I bought freely and never stopped to think about the cost. Every now and again, I topped up my account. I have a London Transport Oyster card that works on the same principle.

Of course, I now know that prices were set so low because they were stealing the music. But it was an easy, elegant way to buy content, and the industry can achieve the same pricing levels through sheer volume. I grew up with TV that was paid for one of two ways; through ads you couldn’t skip, or a license fee you couldn’t dodge. Both were forms of micropayment, in their way, though there was no direct link between the levy you paid and the show that you watched.

It’s different now. I don’t watch anything ‘live’ – the timing’s never convenient and you’re stuffed if interrupted. All my viewing is downloads and boxed sets and DVR, and stuff I swap with friends in the same way we pass around recommended books. While I’m happy to go on paying the license fee – those clamouring for its abolition would be the bitterest voices raised after the irretrievable loss of a UK production base – ad-funded programming gets nothing out of me at all. I’ve a red button on my DVR that skips forward 3 minutes. Bang, the ads are gone.

Sorry, guys. But here’s 5p. Carry on.

4 responses to “Micropayment”

  1. You’re a wise man, Stephen. Micropayments are the way of the future… and the way for writers to secure their future income. The WGGB is working hard on making sure that happens, which means that we’ve got to get proper gatekeepers into place now. Some already are.

    In theory, it shouldn’t be difficult. Just like books have ISBN numbers and tins of beans their bar-codes, we’ve got to make sure all TV shows have their unique indentifiers. We’ll get there, by Jove, we’ll get there!

  2. I’ve never had a problem with the licence fee – considering what you get (TV, radio, excellent web-services) then it’s superb value for money, and I’d much rather my monies goes to the Beeb than some Australian-born/American-resident media tycoon.

    As for micro-payments, excellent idea… though unfortunately the Performing Rights Society still believe in being old-fashioned.

  3. As it happens I was watching a Law and Order last night and spotted credits for a couple of former colleagues – I worked with both writer Rick Eid and Supervising Producer David Slack on The Forgotten.