Set Jericho and Friday Night Lights Free

Last week, NBC announced an arrangement with DirecTV to keep the critically-adored but seldom-watched Friday Night Lights alive. The satellite company will help foot the bill for production in exchange for the exclusive first-run rights of the show. The New York Times writes that Comcast is in similar talks with CBS about the recently-canceled Jericho.

DirecTV thinks it can use Lights as a marketing tool to get the rabid fans of the show to ditch cable for satellite. Eric Shanks, DirecTV’s executive vice president for entertainment, told The Times:

“We have exclusive content around sports with the N.F.L., college basketball and Nascar,” he said. “Why can’t that same model work with entertainment? Why can’t we go out and get exclusive entertainment properties and use that as a differentiator as well?”

Well, here’s why.

Sports is different from other entertainment. Part of the thrill is watching the games live. Plus, it’s hard to evade sports coverage on TV, in papers and online (not to mention your friends talking about it) if you have the game TiVo’d.

A show like Friday Night Lights doesn’t have that imperative. Unless you go looking for it, the news isn’t going to cover what happened on last night’s episode and friends will wait to discuss it with you.

All a move like the NBC/DirecTV deal does is turn a show that fans are passionate about into a marketing club — watch it here, or else.

Here’s a thought. Instead of entering into exclusive distribution arrangements, why not set the shows and the intellectual property free on the web? Instead of 13 expensive episodes, create six complete hours of entertainment. Parse them into small webisodes or release them as three, two hour televised movies. Then empower the fans with the tools they need to create their own stories (fan films are getting quite good these days) to fill in the gaps before another batch of content is released.