I purchase and watch a lot of streaming content, tv shows and movies, be it on Netflix, AppleTV and iPad (which I use at the gym and while traveling). This week, ABC launched a promotion allowing users to download all 9-episodes of Pan-Am for free. The move is a desperate last chance attempt to drive interest in the series, which is on the edge of cancellation. Will it work? I’m not sure — it could be too late. But it is a smart move and it got me thinking. Why don’t networks offer the first episode of every television series for free?

Everyone loves free stuff. People will even flock to free stuff when the free stuff is actually junk. Free stuff can be great marketing — and unlike a lot of marketing promos, it actually works.

I remember when Best Buy would give out free DVDs of the first two episodes of each upcoming season of 24. I use to joke that it was like Fox was like a drug dealer, giving everyone their first hit for free, to get you hooked. So many friends found the series because of these free DVDs. I’m surprised that the same gimmick isn’t being used more often with digital media.

Sure, you see a promotion like the Pan-Am freebie pop up every once in a while, usually when a network is forced to do something drastic. But why not make it a regular thing? If the content is good, people will spend their money on it. Its why HBO and Showtime give free previews every once in a while.

As a digital buying consumer, I would love to try out some tv shows I wouldn’t normally consider purchasing. iTunes currently has a “Free Episodes” section, but it’s filled mostly with free featurettes, trailers, sneak peeks. It’s actually hard to find television episodes in the “Free Episode” section.  I find that a little sad.

It would be great if Apple iTunes offered the first episode of every television series for download in HD for FREE. If people end up liking the pilot episode, they’ll want more. The problem is that Networks are resistant to offer up their content for free on digital devices — so I think it would take a powerhouse like Apple to force this deal. And I could see such a feature as a part of the long rumored Apple television.

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