iTunes Deal Is Latest Indignity for American Fans of Downton Abbey

Slate's Culture Blog
Jan. 18 2013 12:08 PM

The Latest Indignity for American Fans of Downton Abbey

downton
Dan Stevens and Michelle Dockery in Downton Abbey.

© 2010 Courtesy of MASTERPIECE

American Downton Abbey addicts who wait to watch the show when it airs on PBS suffered another indignity this week when it was reported that iTunes subscribers will get “early” access. iTunes (and Amazon Instant Video) will make the final three episodes of Season 3 available to purchasers of a Downton Abbey season pass on Jan. 29, which means subscribers will be able to watch Episodes 5, 6, and 7 before TV viewers. (Episode 7, which was the show’s Christmas special in the United Kingdom, will air on PBS nearly three weeks later, on Feb. 17.)

When I asked PBS why digital subscribers got an early look at the final episodes, a spokeswoman pointed out that the digital release matches the “street date” for the Season 3 DVD set, which will also go on sale on Jan. 29. “There have always been VHS or DVD release dates within the broadcast window of any given title,” she wrote in an email. “In this case iTunes is simply selling a digital version at the same time as the physical DVD becomes available.”

This may be true, but Downton Abbey is Masterpiece’s first highly serialized show in a long time. I’ve enjoyed other Masterpiece series more than DowntonFoyle’s War and Inspector Lewis in recent years, for example—but their short seasons (usually three or four episodes) and the use of stand-alone mysteries rather than a soapy plot-twist-filled structure like Downton’s, leave viewers much less invested in knowing how the story lines work out (less spoiler-phobic, also). And classics such as Great Expectations and The Old Curiosity Shop, which Masterpiece aired during Dickens’ sesquicentennial in 2012, lost their ability to be spoiled more than 100 years ago.

Advertisement

Downton Abbey is a huge hit for PBS—7.9 million viewers watched the Season 3 premiere, which is quadruple the network’s average primetime rating—and I do understand PBS’s and Masterpiece’s desire to monetize the show’s astonishing popularity. It’s just too bad that the last people who get to see the show are the network’s loyal viewers.

June Thomas is a Slate culture critic and editor of Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section. 

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

The Democrats’ War at Home

How can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?

Congress’ Public Shaming of the Secret Service Was Political Grandstanding at Its Best

Michigan’s Tradition of Football “Toughness” Needs to Go—Starting With Coach Hoke

A Plentiful, Renewable Resource That America Keeps Overlooking

Animal manure.

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10

Politics

Cringing. Ducking. Mumbling.

How GOP candidates react whenever someone brings up reproductive rights or gay marriage.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

Hasbro Is Cracking Down on Scrabble Players Who Turn Its Official Word List Into Popular Apps

Florida State’s New President Is Underqualified and Mistrusted. He Just Might Save the University.

  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 30 2014 9:33 PM Political Theater With a Purpose Darrell Issa’s public shaming of the head of the Secret Service was congressional grandstanding at its best.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 30 2014 7:02 PM At Long Last, eBay Sets PayPal Free
  Life
Gaming
Sept. 30 2014 7:35 PM Who Owns Scrabble’s Word List? Hasbro says the list of playable words belongs to the company. Players beg to differ.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 30 2014 3:21 PM Meet Jordan Weissmann Five questions with Slate’s senior business and economics correspondent.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 30 2014 8:54 PM Bette Davis Talks Gender Roles in a Delightful, Animated Interview From 1963
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:00 PM There’s Going to Be a Live-Action Tetris Movie for Some Reason
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 30 2014 11:51 PM Should You Freeze Your Eggs? An egg freezing party is not a great place to find answers to this or other questions.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.