As a (semi-) avid listener of podcasts, I have a few from NPR queued up. One of them is “The Business,” covering Hollywood news, but from a real insider-y, business-minded perspective. There’s no coverage of the Kardashian wedding, unless it’s about how that even affected the rules of news reporting, or something like that. But nothing about who she was wearing.
Anyhoo, last week’s episode had an interview with the crew from “Damages,” the Glenn Close / Rose Byrne lawyer program that was recently killed off by FX. Part of the discussion was about the show’s subsequent revival by DirecTV, who are carrying the show exclusively on their service. It’s similar to what happened with the last few seasons of “Friday Night Lights” (aka “Minka Kelly in a Cheerleader Outfit”), except that FNL seasons eventually ran on NBC anyhow. “Damages,” on the other hand, is only being shown on DirecTV. If you don’t have that specific service, no Rose Byrne. Which, knowing some people, is a fate worse than death.
Now, that discussion reminded me of a discussion I had with Erik a couple months ago about the future of TV. I don’t think it will involve 3D, or Facebook integration, or Smell-O-Vision, or what have you. And in an odd way, the exclusivity of a couple of series outside of any broadcast or cable network are, I think, the first baby steps toward this new model.
The first big revolution in TV watching at the turn of the century was the DVR; people would tape shows all the time on their VCRs, but to be able to do so without tapes, and set it up so that every episode you wanted was recorded with little extra intervention by the viewer was a big deal. Netflix and Hulu were then the next step in that progression; now, actually recording the episode was unnecessary. Servers on the other side of the country already had it. Just pull it up when you want. You could watch “The Cape” whenever you wanted (if you ever did, which I would bet would not be the case). So, this begs the question: What if that wasn’t an augment to television? What if that’s how television worked in general?
As the entertainment industry moves forward, networks as brands and identifiers seem less and less relevant. There are some small parts that show individuality (Fox’s Sunday night animation, NBC’s Thursday night comedies) but it seems that where most shows are located is becoming increasingly irrelevant. Sure, “CSI” is a CBS program, but does it really matter that it’s on CBS? Especially given that Spike and various other syndicated outlets also show it wall-to-wall? Even for shows that defined certain channels (i.e. “Mad Men,” “The Shield”), does the specific channel it airs on truly matter?
With Hulu showing current programs the day after airing, and Netflix taking care of a lot of back-catalog programming (as well as dipping their toes into exclusive original programming), many people are watching some shows only on these sites, independent of their network of origin (well, Hulu is a collaboration between some networks… just… look, you get what I mean). Are people really coming to a program nowadays because it’s on ABC, or USA, or AMC?
So, with all these chess pieces in place, I think TV’s next grand step is toward a fully on-demand model. But not simply one based on network; I think it would be one based on program and event. It would function similar to Netflix or Hulu or your current cable on-demand service; you pick your program, as if going to the “Mad Men” channel. At that point, all the episodes would be available. New ones would still be on a schedule, say Sundays at 10pm, but that would simply be a release date, rather than an airing. You could watch the new episode at any time after that point. That way, production schedules could be managed in roughly the same way as they are now; production companies can still make an episode every eight days.
As for monetization: that’s still something to figure out. I know it’s also a sticking point for current online on-demand systems. Do you put ads in the middle of shows as they are now? If so, do you make them unskippable? Do you just make the episode “brought to you by” a sponsor, with an ad at the beginning? Is everything just going to be subscription-based? Will Gilbert Gottfried just pop up in the middle of a show and yell at you to go to Long John Silver’s? I don’t have all the answers. Obviously, nothing will change if people can’t get money from it. Cynical, but welcome to Hollywood.
Obviously, this is probably all pie-in-the-sky prognostication. Maybe the old guard will keep TV how it is until the end of time (which, if the Mayans are right, is only another 16 months away, so we’ll still see how “House” ends). But I’m intrigued with this slow shift of TV viewership away from network strictures and think that a direct-stream model like the one above would satisfy most everyone’s TV needs. We already have the means of delivery; they just need to be more ubiquitous. Time will handle that.
So, thus concludes another edition of “Louis Just Makes Predictions About Crap Without Really Knowing What He’s Talking About.” I will see you in the future. And we must be concerned with the future, for it is where we will spend the rest of our lives.