"Free to air", "Freeview", whichever pseudonym you prefer. They're all a fallacy.
We have all been raised with this artificial floor on our concept of the world. A foundation fit for a fool's paradise.
"The world just gives me free entertainment whenever I want!"
When put like that, does it seem too good to be true? If not, I have a bridge to sell you.
This blatant mislabeling wouldn't be an issue, if not for the fact that the customary idea of "free" has totally skewed any discussion around creative content. The concept of "free" content, free shows and films on broadcast television or free songs on traditional radio, creates a distortion in your perception of value.
The impact of this misconception is not hard to imagine.
How can any subscription service or ticket price seem of value against "free"?
How much more easily can traditional broadcasters maintain a faux moral high ground, particularly when trying to avoid their local content quota obligations, while they claim to offer a "free" service to the public?
And the most damaging of all, what intrinsic value do audiences place on screen content when it seems to be given away for "free"?
Is it any wonder people download content they find for "free" online without guilt? Paying for content is actually the anomaly. "Free" is the status quo.
But the wind has changed.
With the advent of Google and Facebook's "free" services, inadvertently, people have started to understand value propositions that don't involve traditional payment.
In a world where you can "pay" for your email, internet search, and social networking services with your personal details, what else can you pay for without cash?
The standard length of a traditional half-hour television show is twenty-two minutes, without advertising breaks.
Assuming you watch the entire show, you gave eight minutes of your life to advertisers.
Eight precious minutes of your existence. Never to be returned.
In the USA, the average person watches five hours of television a day. That equates to 1825 hours a year of television viewing.
In Australia, the average person watches thirteen hours a week of television. That equates to 676 hours a year of quality time spent with the tube.
Using those figures, and the accepted conventions for advertising to content ratio, the American gives away nineteen full days of their life to advertising. The Australian gives away seven full days.
But you wouldn't sit for seven, 24 hour, days watching advertising, right? That would be insane!
So let's say you approached the task like a standard work day. Eight hours a day of watching nothing but advertising.
That means the American gave the advertisers 57, eight-hour, work days. The Australian gave a less generous 21 days.
But wait, you wouldn't sit for seven straight days a week watching advertising, right? That would be insane!
So, amending the average viewing habits to match a five day, eight hours-a-day, working week, how does your schedule now look?
The American gives eleven working weeks, almost three months, to watching advertising. The Australian gives four working weeks, a full month, to the advertisers.
Yes, you heard me correctly.
To get your "free" content on traditional sources, whether American or Australian, you paid with at least a working month of your precious time.
Imagine if you instead took a second job with those hours.
"Free" has never been free. Ever.
Now that we can move beyond that absurd distraction, can we start the vastly more important discussion of what price is "fair" for content?
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