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Home Community Soapdom Blogs Disney and Gated Channels: Exploring the Future of Online Distribution

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Sam Ford This piece originally appeared on June 14, 2006, on the Convergence Culture Consortium from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  Sam Ford blogs weekly there about soap operas in relation to fan cultures and innovative storytelling and marketing campaigns, in addition to blogging about many other new media issues updated multiple times daily.  You can visit his blog here.

A post by Rafat on paidContent has brought my attention to a Television Week piece about Disney's new digital distribution efforts through the Disney Channel Network, as well as its SoapNet channel--a project I'm particularly interested in.

The company has adopted two simultaneous revenue streams, by receiving paid advertising content from a broader online site available to everyone in some projects, while only allowing other services to be accessed through what Daisy Whitney in the TV Week piece refers to as "gated" channels. For instance, the second approach is embodied by SoapNet's project called SoapNetic, offering content only to those who Verizon high-speed internet customers who pay to see it. But, companies should be careful by locking up content in gates that some people cannot access it even if they were willing to pay to...

According to Disney's strategy, this approach strengthens the relationship between Verizon and SoapNet and encourages fans of SoapNet to use Verizon to gain access to SoapNetic, while Disney gains fees from Verizon for offering this exclusive content.

The company is celebrating this two-pronged approach, offering both content exclusive to gated channels while also offering shows that are available for download by all. Experts quoted in the story indicate that this proves that the right idea is still up in the air and that Disney is trying to diversify by launching several different approaches simultaneously.

For SoapNetic, launching content in online forms helps it overcome the fact that the channel is not yet available in many cable markets. Daisy Whitney says that SoapNet has been "among the vanguard of networks offering shows online." The SoapNetic site will include content not available anywhere else.

I'm interested in seeing which of Disney's dual approaches seems to gain the most legs. The problem with the "gated" approach appears to be the company-specific restrictions that causes many problems of platform. If, as a fan of soap opera and pro wrestling and classic country music (using me as an example, you see), soap opera content is available to me exclusively on Verizon, wrestling exclusively on RCN, and country exclusively on BellSouth, then I'm going to be extremely upset as a fan that I'm blocked from being able to enjoy the content I want to see the most because it's locked up in such company-specific deals. Of course, these deals mentioned above are hypothetical, but--while staying in Kentucky--I can't see the SoapNetic content if I wanted to, since Verizon Internet service is not offered here.

I would much rather see companies taking the approach of charging subscription prices or pay-per-view webcasts to get content directly from their site, such as WWE does with its content. Of course, with network neutrality itself hanging in the balance, more and more of these "gated" channel distribution deals may be in our future. But I think companies, including Disney, should think more about what they may be costing themselves with "gated" deals in alienating fans and shutting them off from content they love.

In the media world, absence does not make the heart grow fonder. Considering the great number of choices out there, absence usually makes you forgotten.

Thanks to C3's David Edery for pointing me toward this development.


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