iTunes offers the option to purchase individual episodes of TV shows, which can be useful if you just want to cherry-pick a few favourites, or legally catch up with something you missed when it was broadcast. However, if you know you want to experience a show entirely via iTunes -- perhaps because that suits your schedule better or because the show isn't actually on air in Australia -- you can also purchase a whole season at a discount or get a 'season pass', which lets you download a whole season for a fixed up-front price, downloading new episodes as they became available.
Want an episode of Top Gear? No worries, that'll be $2.99. Want the whole of season six? That's $32.89, (and a fair chunk of your download limit, unless you're with iiNet which doesn't meter iTunes store downloads). There's no bargain for buying the whole season: with 11 episodes, they still work out at $2.99 each.
The question of whether you should get some kind of discount for your loyalty is a vexed one. For instance, Ten's news panel comedy Good News Week also offers individual episodes for $2.99 each. A season pass costs $76.99 for an as yet unspecified number of episodes, something which hasn't proved too popular with many of the reviewers leaving comments on iTunes, who have noted that earlier seasons could be purchased for $15.99. It was worse; initially, the pass was priced at $92.99.
Of course, if you want to save money, you could skip iTunes entirely and watch episodes on the Good News Week site. However, that has its own limitations: only the last few weeks are available, and episodes are broken up into separate sections. If your connection isn't running at a decent speed, it can also be a disjointed viewing experience. Paying on iTunes definitely delivers a smoother experience.
In the case of Good News Week -- a show drawing on current events -- a DVD release seems unlikely, so iTunes is the only legitimate purchase option. In the case of drama or comedy, a DVD release is much more likely, and will often prove to be a cheaper option.
For instance, a single season of 30 Rock costs $29.99 on iTunes. A quick hunt online tracks down a new copy of a three-season box set for around $60. And for that, you get actual packaging and a much higher-resolution copy. Admittedly, what you don't get is immediate availability; DVDs generally don't get released until after a show has finished broadcast, though there are sometimes exceptions with overseas shows.
TV production needs a revenue model, and paying for a season pass is one obvious way to do that without resorting to downloads (however much we like to do that). But the approach on iTunes still lacks consistency and (in many instances) decent value for money.
What seems like a reasonable season pass price to you? Share your thoughts in the comments.
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