Why We're a User-Supported Service

When I was a kid, there was only one real way to watch shows on TV and that was network television. With rabbit ears and a little magic, the shows were beamed into our TV in full color. At the time, commercial interruptions were just part of the experience.

As I grew older, my parents invested in a cable TV connection and this was an exciting part of my young life. I could suddenly access MTV and The Comedy Channel, again with commercials. But cable also provided for a different kind of channel that cost a little extra and, refreshingly, had no commercials. The experience of HBO let me imagine that TV could be different and it felt like the TV I wanted to watch.

Then, not too long ago, online platforms like Netflix provided yet another version of what TV could be. For a monthly fee, Netflix provided always-on access to commercial free shows and movies and the freedom to watch anything on the platform at any time. Again, a fundamentally different experience than network TV.

Today, I rarely watch network TV. I’d rather avoid commercial interruptions and I usually find the shows don’t appeal to me nearly as much. It’s as if the commercials themselves cause the shows to be less interesting. Could that be the case? We can answer this question by considering who the customers truly are for network TV.

I think about it like this: the shows that appear on network TV are the ones that can attract the largest audiences. The more people tune in, the more money can be made from commercials. This creates a kind of filter for new shows. To make it to network TV, the show must be able to build an audience and importantly, sell advertising. The customer, from the perspective of the networks, is the advertisers and not the viewers. The advertisers pay the bills and govern what makes it to my TV.

Now, let’s compare that to Netflix and HBO, which come with a monthly fee from viewers. They both provide a wide variety of programming that could never make it to network TV. While there are a number of reasons why this is the case, perhaps the biggest is not having to sell advertising. They are user supported services and reflect what their users want to see. 

Common Craft, on a much smaller scale, uses the same model. Our videos are not what the YouTube audience is demanding today. Explanations of plagiarism or the public domain will not garner the millions of views it takes to earn a living on YouTube advertising. But here’s the thing… we believe these videos and others like them should be available because they educate and solve problems. They help teachers and trainers and librarians. They are useful.

That’s why we are a user supported service. Yes, we have membership fees, and those fees mean we can provide a fundamentally different kind of service to educators. Our videos don’t have advertising or even logos. There are no interruptions or product placements. In fact, many of our titles come from member suggestions. The people and organizations who choose to support our work are our focus and biggest influence on the videos we produce and that’s exactly where we want to be.