Will People Pay for Online Content?

The World Wide Web has changed everything, and it appears that it hasn’t finished changing yet. One of the topics that I keep coming back to is the question of who will pay for production and distribution of video and movie programming over the Internet. One problem is that people tend to like “free” better than something that costs them money. While iTunes has proven that people are willing to pay small amounts for things like music tracks, does that transfer to more expensive endeavors, such as a blockbuster movie? Can you really fund an effort like Avatar through billions of small payments?

A new report from Nielsen points to some promising results. In a worldwide survey, the company confirmed the obvious, with 85% of the respondents expressing a preference for free content. But when asked about specific types of content, many indicated that they would be willing to consider making a payment, especially in areas where they have already spent money online.

A worldwide survey indicates that many users are willing to pay for online content.

At least half of the respondents indicated that the would consider paying for movies, music, games, and “professionally produced video” (which I take to mean network programming). And also impressive was that fact that about 10% of them had already paid for this sort of content. Another interesting result was an apparent link to subscriptions in other formats; 78% of the respondents believed that if they subscribe to a newspaper, magazine, or television service, they should be able to access the online content at no additional charge. And nearly two-thirds of them thought that if they purchase online content, then they should be able to copy it or share it any way they want. And about the same number felt that if they pay for online content, that content should be free of advertisements.

I take this survey as a hopeful sign. Add this to the fact that about two thirds of Netflix subscribers with broadband service have taken advantage of the company’s streaming movie and video service, and it appears that there could be some momentum building for user-supported video content on the Internet. This also could be an encouraging sign for the cable subscription services which want to offer a “TV anywhere” service to their subscribers.

We still don’t know the answers to the big questions about streaming video on the Internet, but I believe that we will solve the problem of how to pay for it.