I Can’t Get No Satisfaction – 300 Stations and Nothing on TV
TiVo completely changed the idea of “Must See TV” where audiences needed to be in front of their televisions at a specific time on a specific day to see their favorite programs. The ubiquity of TiVo-type technology in cable and satellite set-top boxes put an end to sitting through commercials. We watch what we want when we want with minimal interruptions.
If you’re like most consumers of mass media, there are a handful of programs you watch religiously. Since you’re watching in the privacy of your home, you might readily admit to being a fan of a popular show, while others are ‘guilty pleasures’ like those couple of Carpenters songs on your iPod. It’s OK… That’s what personal music players and playlists are all about. Thanks to iTunes and Amazon, at least we don’t have to purchase an entire disk just for the one or two songs we like which are buried amongst the ‘filler’ on a CD.
But what about all the filler that comes with our cable and satellite TV subscriptions? I’m not referring to all the insipid programs on a particular channel that televises one or two shows you watch. I’m talking about all the bogus channels that come with the programming bundles above and beyond the basic subscription packages. Talk about filler!
I don’t speak Spanish or Arabic so I don’t need any of the channels broadcasted in those languages. Both of my kids are away at college so Nick Jr and Nick Teen are of no interest to me. I’d rather watch paint dry than tune into CSPAN, (let alone CSPAN-2 and CSPAN-3). I’m not interested in the home shopping networks like the Jewelry Channel. And The Cooking Channel, DIY and Fit TV aren’t for me either.
So why are all these channels part of the premium subscription packages? And why are consumers shelling out so much money every month for all this programming that’s of no interest to them?
You Say You Want a Revolution
My prediction is this scenario won’t continue for long. It’s the beginning of the end for these networks and their distribution models which have remained mostly unchanged since coaxial cable started running to our homes decades ago.
The $0.99 per song model works wonderfully for downloading music, and a similar model should work just as well to acquire your favorite television programs. For example, at this writing country-pop singer Taylor Swift has a song called “Mine” on Billboard’s Top 10. The song was released by the independent record label, Big Machine Records, launched by a former DreamWorks executive, Scott Borchetta and Toby Keith, specifically for country music singers. Universal Music Group serves as the distributor for Big Machine Records. But does iTunes or Amazon require Taylor Swift fans to subscribe to Universal Music to purchase one of her songs? Of course not…
Why should television be any different?
We’re Not Gonna Take It
If you enjoy original programming created by HBO like, “True Blood” and “Entourage” you should be able to purchase those shows (and only those shows) directly from HBO without having to subscribe to HBO; let alone subscribe to HBO via Time-Warner, Comcast, Cox, DirecTV, etc.
The same goes for shows on the major networks. If you’re a fan of “Grey’s Anatomy” you should be able to subscribe to that program. The fact that “Grey’s” is televised by Disney’s subsidiary, ABC is immaterial. ABC didn’t create that show like HBO creates their shows. Grey’s was created by a woman named, Shonda Rhimes and originally produced by her production company, ShondaLand, along with the production companies, The Mark Gordon Company, and Touchstone Television. Neither ABC or Disney had anything to do with the original creation or production of this popular television series. However, ABC and Buena Vista Television, (both part of the Disney conglomerate), served as distributors of Grey’s Anatomy.
Hey You, Get Off of My Cloud
Once a franchise like Grey’s Anatomy is established, the distributor no longer serves any real purpose and adds no value. Please think back to the Taylor Swift example above. The distribution company Universal Music serves no purpose in facilitating the purchase of, or the consumer’s acquisition of the Taylor Swift song purchased via iTunes or Amazon. Like all digital music purchases, the music is downloaded directly by the consumer and is streamed to them in the form of electrons, and arrives on their computer as a digital music file ready for listening. The distributor didn’t inventory any physical product or deliver anything to a retailer for purchase by the end user. The distributor did nothing whatsoever.
In the mid-80s, I cut my marketing teeth in Burbank, California at Warner Bros. Television in the International Distribution department, (also referred to as foreign syndication). Prior to that I worked in the recorded music industry in Hollywood and later owned a film production company that produced a feature film for 20th Century Fox; so I well know the ins and outs of the entertainment industry’s distribution apparatus. And to say its antiquated is an enormous understatement.
Now Your Patrons Have All Left You in the Red
The fact is, Hollywood’s distribution model is totally obsolete, but remains in place because it’s so deeply entrenched. However, there’s no way Big Hollywood can maintain the stranglehold on the distribution of entertainment it has had since the advent of “talking pictures” with synchronized sound 85 years ago.
Continual advancements in technology always usurp the status quo. And Big Hollywood is going to become as extinct as dinosaurs, just as the buggy whip industry ceased to exist with the introduction of the automobile.
I’m Gonna Tell You How It’s Gonna Be
I predict the beginning of the end for the major distributors of television networks and what most people think of as the “major studios” who now only serve primarily as distributors and actually produce very few television programs or movies.
Video entertainment will be distributed to computers, set-top boxes, smart phones and mobile devices, and distributors and eventually the networks will be completely circumvented. I’m predicting once a show has developed a following, (which can easily and very inexpensively be established via YouTube by the show’s creators and production company), consumers will be able to interact directly with the plethora of production companies who actually produce the entertainment, and subscribe to the shows they choose. It’s just a matter of time before you’ll be able to subscribe to Grey’s Anatomy and its spin-off show, Private Practice, by using your credit card or PayPal to subscribe to the ShondaLand Productions channel on YouTube, or more likely directly through the production company’s own presence on the Internet.
Grey’s Anatomy is a very popular program and this program, its creator and production company have been utilized to depict the scenario I’m predicting. However, the technology and ability to proceed with the model I’ve described has existed for quite some time, as YouTube recently celebrated their fifth anniversary as a company, and always on, high speed connectivity has been the norm for years.
While the technology already exists via YouTube, most of what’s posted is very amateurish. No matter what the medium is for delivery, in order for a program to develop a critical mass of followers the show must have interesting characters and character development, intriguing multi-threaded plots, story arcs, protagonists, antagonists, conflict, a climax, and conclusion. That is, everything required for great story telling. In addition, professional script writers, actors, story editors are vital, as are professional quality video, audio, lighting, effects, etc.
All the talent required in front of the camera and behind the scenes is readily available and essential for successful video programs, (I’m purposefully avoiding the word “television” programs). However, the “middle men” known as distributors are not required at all.
You’ll see! (pun intended)