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Friday, December 02, 2005
Television Revolution
I don't think it's any great secret that I enjoy watching television. In fact, you could almost say that I probably should consider using that off button a bit more often, lest I run the risk of becoming Bill Murray's character from Scrooged.

For years, the model of television has been that the networks program shows at certain times and we, the audience, show up to watch them. (Or in some cases, record them for later viewing). Shows fates were determined by the audience that chose to turn in for the show at that time and, more recently, the demographics of that audience. But now, that's all starting to change in a variety of ways.One is the whole idea of in-demand shows. Recently, a couple of networks have begun to offer episodes of their shows available to download and view at your convience for a fee of anywhere from 99 cents to $1.99 per epiosde. So, if you walk out the door and forget to set the VCR or TiVO for your favorite show, you can always buy a copy later and download it to view whenever works for you. (It saves that frantic calling or e-mailing all your friends and asking them if they taped the show and would loan it to you...) It's also useful if you get interested in a show like Lost and want to catch-up. (Of course at $2 per episode, if makes more economic sense to rent or buy the season one boxset...) Gone are the days like when I first got into The X-Files in season two and basically had to wait for FOX to re-air the episodes I wanted to see of the series to catch-up on the mythology of the show. These days, I could download all the episodes and get caught-up at my own pace instead of the one the network mandidated.

Or I could just wait for the second method of catching up on a show these days--DVD box sets. I've posted before of my love for DVD box-sets of shows. And I'll admit it's a great way to catch up on certain shows that you might have missed or not had time to see. Or to revisit old favorites. And we've seen certain TV shows go to DVD and make a resurrect some shows. Firefly got a movie because the DVD sales showed an audience was there and Family Guy was resurrected due, in part, to DVD sales. Also, it seems that the sales of season of 24 encouraged FOX to have faith in season two and now, as we head into season five, 24 is one of the crown jewels of the FOX line-up.

So, these days it seems as if the end consumer does have a bit more say in what may or may not stay on the air. We're being given a way to show support for a show not just in ratings but in the one way that most bottom line execs are going to care about most--dollars and cents. And it's leading to a change in how television could be produced and distributed.

An article in New York Magazine postulated the following:

All of which leads to an enticing possibility: Let’s say that Joss Whedon, creator of Firefly, wanted to bring the series back to air. (Though “back to air” is a TV phrase now as anachronistically quaint as “switching the dial.”) Let’s say he found a million Firefly fans online—and, trust me, they’re not hiding—who were willing to pay, say, $39.99 each for a sixteen-episode season of Firefly. (Not an unreasonable price, given how many people pay about that amount for full seasons on DVD.) Suddenly, Joss Whedon’s got roughly $40 million to play with—and he doesn’t need a network. Or a time slot. Or advertisers. He can beam the damn shows right to your computer if he wants to. There’s even a mini-precedent for this: The online phenomenon of “ransom games,” in which a board-game developer sets a price (usually something minuscule, like $1,000), then, once he’s received that amount in pledges from strangers, creates the game and releases it for free.
First of all, I can say right now that I'd pony up forty bucks for one more season of Firefly. But the article does go on to make an interesting point...

But the idea of TV funded by the audience conjures another, less sunny scenario. After all, there’s already an entertainment-delivery system that funds itself through mini-contributions from millions of viewers: It’s called the movies, which aren’t exactly undergoing an artistic golden age. Furthermore, wherever democracy blooms, mob violence is only one step behind: How happy will Joss Whedon be when the $39.99-paying legions, assembled at wesavedfirefly.com, demand that a killed character be resurrected or that an irritating plotline be written out of the show?
I'll give you that. Internet message boards are already full of fans who think they can run the shows better and get upset when the final product doesn't match the vision they have of the show. So, this idea of making a season for the paying fans does seem a bit of a double-edged sword. (And if you need proof, just go and look at any Star Trek message board and the wide vareity of reactions to Enterprise or Voyager. There are some fair criticisms to be made of each show but they are lost in the sea of violent detractors or those who just have Star Trek-tinted goggles and think the shows can do no wrong).I like the idea of bringing the shows fans want directly to them.

On a recent Slice of SciFi, the gang debated this very thing--making the first episode available and then asking you to pony up for the rest of the season if you were interested. Throw in the promise of a DVD box set for your paying for the show that is delivered to your TiVO or DVR and it might be a way of getting niche shows to the fans.

It seems this is the route the BBC is taking with the new incarnation of Doctor Who. After months of trying to find an outlet for the show stateside, the BBC has taken out the middleman and will offer the show direct to the end consumers. And, suddenly, we the fans have some power here. If we show up in droves and buy the sets, it might encourage a network to give the show a chance and pick-up the rights to show it here. I can understand the arguement that some Who fans are making that this will not encourage new fans of the show, but it's better than nothing.

But as we move forward, will this become more the norm than an exception? And what will that do to the already splintered by cable TV market?

It's a fascinating question. And a revolution that should be fun to watch. (No pun intended)

posted by Michael Hickerson at 12/02/2005 11:30:00 AM | |
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