I want to pay to watch television. That's right, you heard me. And I don't just mean HBO, other "premium cable" channels, or "adult" programs. In fact, I want every TV show I watch to be pay-per-view. And I don't want to see any fucking commercials. Why am I bringing this up now? Because I read the news today. Oh boy. Now, I work for AT&T, so I don't have anything against big corporations making money. But I do balk at imposing technical restrictions that are contrary to what end users want. Personal video recorders (PVRs) are all the rage now -- I love my Dishplayer -- but they could be better. Streaming from a central server could be nice, but it doesn't solve the problem of (all together, now) fucking commercials. I can skip commercials using my Dishplayer, 27 seconds at a time, but I'd rather not have to deal with them at all. Here's what I want: MICROBILLING. Dream with me for a few minutes. Let's suppose that all the technology exists to do video-on-demand, whether it's streamed from the cable company or cached on your home PVR. It would be at least as profitable for TV networks to charge viewers directly as it is for them to pay the bills with advertising revenue, as they do now. Don't believe me? Let's do some math. According to published reports, a 30-second advertising spot during "ER" (the highest-rated drama on television) cost $600,000 during the 2000-2001 season. Let's be generous and say that one episode of "ER" is 43 minutes long. (This number used to larger, but that's another rant.) 60 minutes - 43 minutes = 17 minutes available for advertising. Let's be generous again and say that five of those minutes are used for station identification, network promos, news updates, and other non-revenue-generating spots. That leaves 12 minutes of ad time to sell. One minute is 60 seconds, so 12 minutes gives us 24 separate 30-second time slots to sell. 24 spots * $600,000/spot = $14,400,000. That's almost $1.5 million more than the reported $13 million which NBC pays Warner Brothers for each episode of "ER". That's a net profit of $1.5 million per episode. According to the Nielsen ratings (which I don't fully trust, but that's also another rant), "ER" regularly draws over 20 million homes every week. This number also varies depending on what else is on at the same time, whether the episode is a rerun, etc. Let's lowball it and say we get 15 million viewers for each episode, averaged over the entire year. Now let's speculate. If, instead of getting money from advertisers, NBC charged viewers directly, they'd only need to charge each household $1.00 per episode to gross $15 million every week. That's $600,000 more than they're making now. But why do it per episode? Who watches just one episode of anything (unless it really sucks)? Sell a "season pass" to the show for $30 a year. If the household watches every episode-- let's say there are 26 per season (unlikely, but possible)-- they're paying over $1.50 per episode. Multiply that by 15 million, and that's a gross of $600 million for the year. If NBC pays $338 million to air the entire season (26 episodes * $13 million per episode), in this scenario, they've just made a net profit of $262 million. The viewers don't have to fast-forward through commercials, and the writers don't have to follow a strict five-act structure to accommodate interruptions. The relationship between networks and production companies doesn't change. The network can charge different fees for different shows based on their popularity. Pilots of new shows could be free. Reruns on demand could cost just a few cents. Everybody wins. I, personally, would love it if this came to pass. I pay for HBO, but I only watch "Dennis Miller Live", "Six Feet Under", and the occasional movie. I don't channel-surf. How much better would it be if I could pay only for the shows I watched? How much money would that save me? But realistically, nobody's going to go for this. NBC isn't just going to tell Ford and Procter & Gamble and McDonald's that sorry, we don't really want your money any more. The network would rather get the $600,000 up front rather than billing 15 million different customers and hoping they pay up in a timely manner. Viewers aren't going to want to start paying for something which was previously "free". And most of all, nobody will want to support the massive transition to a different content distribution model. Everybody says that change is inevitable, but nobody actually wants to change.