A few days ago, I posted a very annoyed status message on my Facebook page: I hate commercial breaks. They should be banned. Or else an ad should only air once every two hours by law, I said.
To which I got this response: So would you pay for content?
And I said, yes, like I buy my books.
And then I thought about it. As a DTH subscriber, I already pay for TV. A certain sum every month for a certain package of channels. Since I prefer the English entertainment channels, I pay a higher price than I would if I stuck to the basic bouquet of channels that my DTH provider offers, mostly news and Hindi entertainment. Of the more than 100 channels this premium package gives me, I watch one regularly because there are two prime time shows I like, and surf maybe another four or five on occasion, never staying on the channel for longer than an hour depending on the show that’s caught my interest. I sometimes enjoy watching movies on TV but that again depends on the film and my state of mind at the time (too distracted to read? I’ll watch a movie. Otherwise not, even if it’s one I had vaguely decided I wanted to watch). And of course, there are all the news channels which I never watch because the anchors are seriously irritating, unless there’s a developing story I must follow.
So essentially, I’m paying for two shows and bits and pieces of other shows here and there on occasion. That’s roughly 500 bucks a month. A fairly high price since I’m not a serious couch potato. But that’s okay. I want access to these channels even if I don’t really watch them.
I pay for the books I read. I spend a lot on books. That’s the biggest component of my monthly expenditure after household and commuting expenses.
When I go to the cinema (very rarely, filmmakers are certainly not making their money off me), I’m paying for the movie.
When I go to the theatre (again, rarely. Traffic in Bombay is so bad these days, I just don’t want to go anywhere unless it’s before 1pm on Sunday morning and plays are rarely staged at that time), I’m paying for the play.
I don’t buy music these days because I seem to have lost interest in music. It distracts me from my reading. But when I did, I paid for it. I bought first LPs, then tapes, then CDs. By the time audio files happened, I’d lost interest. But if I were still interested in music, I’d probably pay for it.
So I pay for ‘content’. Everyone pays for ‘content’. And few people questioned the payment, I think, till the last few years when Internet downloads and sites like YouTube and Project Gutenberg made us wonder: must we pay for ‘content’? Why should we pay for ‘content’?
(If you’re wondering why I put the word ‘content’ in single quotes, it’s because I hate it. ‘Content’ is a marketing construct, ‘content’ is a product. But for the people who create ‘content’, it’s creation. Its blood, sweat and tears, it’s the highest high you can ever get. It isn’t ‘content’.)
With all this free ‘content’ on the Internet, naturally people wonder why we must pay for it offline. The music industry is struggling to deal with this, so is the TV industry. So are all the ‘content’ creators. If you don’t get paid for all the work you put in, how can you live? If you must get a job to support yourself, where’s the time to create?
In truly ancient days, ‘content’ must have been free. I doubt if the ancients charged for music or for cave paintings. True, there was no concept of money in those days, but there certainly was currency in terms of things that were valued. Still, I doubt if cave people said to other cave people, you can see my painting or listen to me bang on a rock and sing if you give me a hunk of that wild boar you killed.
In times that are less vague to us, kings and powerful nobles were patrons of the arts (arts: what ‘content’ used to be called in the olden days). So if your work happened to please a king or a powerful noble, you were supported by him and did not need to work on anything but your ‘content’. Many communities also supported artists and musicians and poets so they could work on their ‘content’ rather than anything else. But again, I’m not entirely certain that regular people paid to see or listen to the arts. (Though, for all I know, they might have. I never thought about this before, so I never looked for information about this specifically. Now I’m curious, so I will.)
I don’t know when people began to pay to read, listen, watch, see good, interesting, entertaining ‘content’. I don’t know when people acknowledged and took for granted that to enjoy the arts and entertainment, you had to have money.
But I know now that people are questioning this belief that we must pay for ‘content’. That already, much ‘content’ is free. I’m not certain if this is good or bad or in between. But I think, as a journalist, there could be nothing more fascinating than to follow the entertainment industries for the next 20 years, to see what happens to these ‘content industries’. We are so used to a capitalist way of life that it’s difficult for us to figure out a world without industries; yet people want their entertainment to be available free; yet we saw communism that aimed to give people much stuff free, fail.
What will happen, I wonder? Will there be no ‘content’ any more? Will we have ‘the arts’ again, or a completely new thing?
I don’t know what you think about this, but for me, all this is highly entertaining. Perhaps more entertaining than the ‘content’ I am about to watch on TV.