Here we go again. A distributor and a cable network are arguing over the fees paid to carry a number of stations. In this case, DIRECTV and FOX Networks are battling. Between all of the claims and counter-claims, it’s difficult to get the real story here. You can make up your own mind by going to FOX’s (KeepMyNets) and DIRECTV’s (OurPromiseToYou) respective PR websites. If an agreement is not reached by November 1st, DIRECTV will not carry FX among other stations. Sons of Anarchy fans would not see the final five episodes of season 4 on DIRECTV (Oct 25th would be the last episode on DIRECTV). The plot thickens with the reaction of Sons of Anarchy creator, writer, director and occasional actor Kurt Sutter. This Saturday, Sutter took to Twitter (@SutterInk) to voice his disgust with the ongoing dispute. Last year, Sutter tweeted that a similar dispute resulted in Sons of Anarchy losing 1/3 of its audience (I assume on Dish in particular).
Sutter’s other tweets were picturesque to put it mildly. If the conflict is not resolved, he vowed to post rough cuts of the last three episodes directly on the Internet as well encouraging viewers to cancel DIRECTV. Acknowledging he may be sued and fired, he has continued with a series of follow up tweets throughout the weekend. Sutter, who is obviously passionate about his work, is clearly frustrated with the whole situation. The MC would be proud of him.
The current dispute raises the question of how can the current cable and satellite model be sustained. Packages with hundreds of channels feel like a giant buffet with too much food for the patrons. Any restaurant that operated like this would go out of business. Perhaps, it’s time for a new model.
Everyone, including myself, has been waiting for the Internet to disrupt TV. While services like Netflix and YouTube have disrupted the industry, the change has been much more incremental around first-run TV shows. Yes, when you pay that cable bill every month, part of it goes to the cast of Jersey Shore and a lot of other shows you don’t watch. Cable companies have started to talk about offering smaller packages. Once again, this is just an incremental change.
For the current model of first-run TV show delivery to change, there’s not enough cord cutting to make an impact yet. It’s going to take creative folks like Kurt Sutter exploring other channels of distribution. Creative folks who have a decent sized fan following. Sutter stated his frustation with current system in a blog post last year. It feels like there are just too many hand-offs to efficiently deliver a digital product to the consumer. Figuring out a more direct route to the consumer will reduce the cost of shows.
The good news is if the dispute doesn’t work out, you can still catch Sons of Anarchy on iTunes or Amazon. Five episodes will cost you $15 in total in high def, $10 in standard def. Then again, you could wait for Kurt Sutter’s brand of anarchy when he posts the shows directly on the Internet.
Update: Kurt Sutter has posted on his blog about a commercial he recorded concerning the dispute to air before 10/25′s SOA. He shares what he really wanted to say to the viewers.
Sons of Anarchy Season 3: Where to Watch