Paying for the Internet

On some evenings I used to watch Conan’s show (from the night before) on I had to watch a fifteen second opening ad, and several three or four minute ad breaks during the replay. I always watched the monologue and first skit. Sometimes I would watch the guest interviews, sometimes I would skip to the closing musician or comic. I didn’t mind that there were ads because Conan is TV and I’m used to ads with TV. I also watched The Good Wife online, and some other shows that were on too late, and all those commercials.

I’m not sure if I’ll be watching those anymore. In the last week or two, I can’t get full episodes of Conan to play in Firefox or Opera. The opening ad plays perfectly, then I just get a spinning circle. Reloading just starts a new commercial, which plays perfectly, then the spinning circle. I run Linux, so it might be that the show’s video app wants too much permission. Or it might be another Flash issue. Or it might be a popup issue.

A lot of pundits predicted that the open, wild and woolly internet would become more like television, would replace television, or that the two would merge. In some ways, television has become more like the internet, though nowhere near as immediate. Videos and selfies are making it onto local or national news a day or so after going viral on the internet. So now Mom-mom and Pop-pop can see the bears in the swimming pool – that their grandkids told them about – without going on facebook or twitter. And they also see plenty of commercials.

Internet media giants are certainly trying to be as vapid and predictably profitable as TV, but are struggling to find a business model that overcomes the control that tech-savvy users have over how much advertising they are forced to watch. Every page one reads becomes fodder for targeted advertising at the fringes of the actual content, but sponsors want to engage our retinas and eardrums, too. Because of that, most of us install adware and popup blocking software as a matter of course. Because of ad blockers, the people paying for advertising don’t believe internet users are actually watching their efforts. They may also realize that it is damned easy to take off headphones and not listen to the loud ads that preface almost every video.

The so-called content providers are looking for a more direct source of income. More and more websites open with an instant popup asking you to subscribe, or give your email, so they can bombard you with requests to subcribe. This is the problematic business model. Given the cost of internet access, many people simply can’t afford to subscribe to all the sites that they have become accustomed to reading for free. Instead they will read them less, or give them up and find free sites.

I’m not sure what the answer is, but I suspect I won’t like it.


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