Sommer’s got a Variety subscription and informs us that despite the blog hype and the Gilmore Girls lead-in, Veronica Mars still gets very bad ratings. Equally, as she says, what we’re basically seeing here is that advertiser-based television has a very hard time serving as a home for high quality programming. On HBO, the name of the game is that some people need to like the shows enough to be willing to pay to watch them. On conventional television networks, you need a larger audience and there are fewer rewards to instilling high levels of audience loyalty.
The good news, I think, is that the future will almost certainly involve more fee-for-service programming, which means more good programming. Not necessarily in the form of more subscription-based networks like HBO. Rather, newer technologies (iTunes store, OnDemand, etc.) let people sell individual episodes or subscriptions to particular shows more-or-less directly to the audience. That’s the kind of situation where, in principle, you could make a shitload of money from a loyal audience even if the audience wasn’t huge. The “bad” ratings for the Veronica Mars premiere, for example, actually included approximately 3.3 million viewers. If you could get, say, half of those people to pay $1 per episode you could earn tens of millios of dollars. And I bet you could get half of them to pay $1 per episode to watch the show. Certainly I would.