You may have noticed that some popular programming like the Daily Show is no longer available for free streaming online. A report from Staci D. Kramer and Janko Roettgers at GigaOM details why: Viacom has decided that it doesn’t want DirecTV subscribers to see its shows, and the only way it can do this is to block everyone from seeing them. Thus, it has removed the shows from its websites (through they remain on third-party sites like Hulu that have contracts with Viacom).
Traditional media companies–content producers and distributors alike–have been trying to hold on to their traditional business models in the face of changing technologies and consumer behavior in so many ways, that sometimes you just have to marvel at their creativity. From anti-competitive contracts that limit their partners’ ability to offer content online, to ridiculous windowing policies that keep people from lawfully renting or streaming movies, to tying schemes like TV Everywhere that require you to be a cable subscriber to watch online video, to bandwidth caps and usage meters that seem crafted to make “replacement level” online video too expensive, no future-defying tool has gone unused in the quest to protect short-term revenues. (Of course, as we’ve argued, it’s counterproductive in the long run for media companies to think only about the next quarter when doing so puts the next decade at risk.)
But this one is new! Viacom has generally been pretty good at offering content online, making full episodes of many of its shows available quickly. Sure, it’s tried to cripple the Internet economy through misguided copyright lawsuits. Nevertheless it’s surprising that it would decide to block its programming from all viewers in this way. It still would have been surprising if it found a way to only cut off DirecTV viewers–the programs were never put up to be viewed only by cable/satellite subscribers. But this goes much further.
The fact that online viewers can be used as a pawn in a traditional carriage negotiation does show where the money is–no doubt Viacom feels that what it’s doing makes perfect sense. But it’s skating to where the puck was, not where it’s going to be, and if Viacom treats online video this casually I’m worried for its future.