Television

Nobody Knows What Television Is Anymore

TV's cultural dominance is unchecked by anything except your own time, and increasingly tailored to your unique interests and obsessions.

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I have a confession to make. It's 2019, and I don't know what television is anymore.

Oh, sure, I know what a television—the physical object, the thing you order from Amazon after checking it out at Best Buy—is. I am even reasonably comfortable with the notion of shows or series, those half-hour and one-hour productions that come in sequential, chapter-like installments, much like they did 30 or 40 years ago when a handful of broadcast networks ruled the airwaves and pay cable channels such as HBO and Cinemax were still niche services for well-off movie nuts and people too embarrassed to rent softcore porn at video stores. (Remember those?)

But television? As a concept? As a means of cultural connection, a system for mass entertainment? A way of organizing the world, or at least the weekday hours after dinner and before bedtime? I have no idea what that is. It's too vague, too sprawling, too unwieldy, too individualized and demographic-specific. Yes, there are still broadcast stations, and if you stick an antenna on your window, you can still tune into them over the air. It's like connecting to some ancient cellular network that only has four apps, all of which are basically the same. But when was the last time you watched something that way? Even street people and survivalists have 5G now.

These days, television—whatever it is—is on your phone, on your PlayStation, on YouTube, on your laptop, and even, sometimes, on your actual television, the big thing you bought from Amazon. TV is increasingly indistinct from the world of big-budget Hollywood feature films and also from big tech, which now makes shows, the things you watch, in order to sell phones, watches, diapers, plush toys, and lunch boxes. On occasion, TV even seems to be melding with video games and vice versa. You can consume as much of it as you want, from virtually any place you can imagine, on anything that has a screen. TV is everything now, and everywhere, an amorphous cultural and commercial blob backed by billions in tech and media spending. Its cultural dominance is unchecked by anything except your own time, and it is increasingly tailored to your unique interests and obsessions.

Yes, I'm talking about Netflix, the streaming video goliath that introduced us to binge-watching, and Stranger Things, and binge-watching Stranger Things. But I'm also talking about the elephant stampede of high-profile streaming video services set to launch in coming months—which include Apple TV+, Disney+, Peacock, HBO Max, and something called Quibi—as well as existing services, from the recognizable (Amazon Prime Video, Hulu) to under-the-radar offerings from the likes of Vudu, Crackle, Facebook Watch, and Vizio's WatchFree. Television, to use a reference that somehow made the leap from the days of broadcast dominance to the social media present, has not just jumped the shark. It is the shark. It is chewing up everything in its path. And the streaming era has only just begun.

ALL YOUR FRIENDS

In the olden days, before the internet, before smartphones, when a television (the object) was something you had to buy at a store, it was easy enough to understand what TV was: three networks broadcasting shows—scripted dramas about police and lawyers, laugh-track comedies about dopey dads and housewife moms, deadly earnest news programming, and only slightly less earnest comedy talk—that felt more or less the same. Television producers pandered, not necessarily to the lowest common denominator but to the widest. Airtime was limited, so their goal was to produce material that would serve everyone, or as close as they could get. Television defined the American median. It was something we could all talk about together.

There was a comforting sense of homogeneity to the TV of this era. It didn't ask too much of you, and it was always there when you needed it, a friendly and familiar presence. It wasn't designed to be great; it was designed to be consistently fine.

The apotheosis of this style of television was the long-running, insanely popular 1990s sitcom Friends, a show that literalized the idea of what television was in its title. Friends was a show about a bunch of attractive and mildly glamorous but essentially ordinary white people hanging out and talking about their lives. It was a show you could watch and engage with but also one that you could just have on as background noise, with the characters' idealized, fictional, not-too-difficult lives serving as the backdrop to your own. That was television's reason for being: to keep ordinary people company in their own homes.

All of this was, one way or another, sanctioned by the government. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), our national censor, kept tabs on broadcast content, deciding which words were acceptable and which weren't and ensuring that your TV friends wouldn't use foul language. The lines of acceptability shifted gradually over time, and politicians occasionally complained about the coarsening of the culture, which mostly meant griping about the plot of Murphy Brown or the presence of uncovered butt cheeks on NYPD Blue. Television was understood as a system for the transmission of common cultural values, and, as a result, it remained fairly tame.

Cable brought a new edge to the medium. Ad-supported networks like Comedy Central and A&E offered niche programming to self-selected audiences. HBO's subscription service, freed from FCC paternalism, could show blood and bare breasts and let characters say any flippity-flappin' words they wanted. But even as cable wormed its way into more and more homes in the 1980s and 1990s, it remained a lesser venue, a dumping ground for reruns and inexpensive programming, with high-quality originals few and far between.

And then, at the turn of the 21st century, that changed. The Shield, Nip/Tuck, The Sopranos, The Wire, Mad Men, Breaking Bad—even a remake of Battlestar Galactica—demonstrated not only that cable channels could compete with big broadcast networks on original programming but that they could produce elevated material that appealed to both critics and small but intensely devoted viewerships who weren't well-served by existing shows. The new TV wasn't designed to be fine for everyone. It was designed to be great for a targeted few.

Suddenly, everybody with a video camera and a distribution platform wanted in. Cable networks from The History Channel to TV Land to USA began devoting more resources to scripted original programming. It wasn't too long before Netflix, a DVD-by-mail company that later launched a streaming service—think HBO in the '80s, but on demand—joined the original content game too.

Unlike broadcast networks, which had to rely on imperfect audience surveys and Nielsen ratings, Netflix had direct access to viewership data, meaning it knew exactly what subscribers were watching, and when, and how often. The company had three major revelations.

The first was that television-style content, which on both cable and broadcast had always been delivered on a specific schedule, in a linear sequence over the space of weeks, could be divorced from time. Netflix not only allowed viewers to watch its shows whenever they wanted, it posted entire seasons online at once and then encouraged viewers to "binge-watch," or consume the whole thing all in one go. Appointment TV, in which you regularly dated a show you liked, was no more; Netflix was TV as a series of intense one-night stands.

The second revelation was that TV could be portable. Netflix was an app, not a channel, which meant you could watch it on your computer, on your phone, in your car, and possibly even on your refrigerator. Netflix shows came to you, wherever you were. The service was platform agnostic.

Finally, Netflix realized that demand for new scripted content was practically infinite and began producing accordingly. In 2013, the year Netflix committed itself fully to originals, the total number of scripted series produced annually across all of Hollywood jumped by 17 percent.

In the 1980s and 1990s, fewer than 50 original scripted television series were produced each year. In 2008, there were more than 200. By 2018, the number was just shy of 500, and streaming networks were the biggest producers. Netflix, which will reportedly spend $15 billion on content this year, wasn't competing with ABC and NBC and CBS. It wasn't even really competing with HBO. It was competing with the entire rest of one's life, with 24 hours of things to do that aren't watching Netflix. CEO Reed Hastings said in 2017, "We actually compete with sleep." Then he added, perhaps not entirely kidding, "And we're winning!"

THROUGH A BLACK MIRROR

It was around this point that television began to lose its definition. After all, what was TV if not a thing that came into your home at a specific time, on a recurring schedule? What was television if not something you watched on a television? Netflix and its early competitors had broken the fundamental laws of the television universe.

The new television didn't just mean more TV. It meant a different kind of TV. It meant shows that didn't cater to the median viewer and that, in many cases, asked more from their audiences than casual background appreciation. That's how Netflix ended up with shows as varied as BoJack Horseman, an animated dramedy about a talking horse dealing with depression, and The Crown, a big-budget costume drama about British monarchs, and The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, a 10-episode prequel to the 1982 Jim Henson cult fantasy film with an all-puppet cast. And it's how the streamer ended up with Daybreak, a forthcoming series starring Matthew Broderick set in Glendale, California, about post-apocalyptic teen gangs that the company describes as "part samurai saga, part endearing coming-of-age story, and part Battle Royale." It's like Fortnite meets Ferris Bueller.

This is weird territory. The boom in scripted television has been a boon for concepts that are unusual, offbeat, and downright wacky. As Ted Sarandos, Netflix's head of content, told New York magazine in 2018, "Nothing is too niche."

Yet in its own way, Netflix is pursuing a median strategy—not with any one show, but with the totality of its programming. The idea isn't to appeal to everyone all at once but to appeal to everyone in fragments and pieces, serving one narrow interest at a time. That's why, in addition to investing heavily in scripted series, Netflix is backing feature films at nearly every budget level, from genre fare that has gone out of fashion at major studios (romantic comedies, teen sci-fi adventures) to big-budget Oscar hopefuls like Alfonso Cuarón's Best Picture–nominated Roma and the forthcoming Martin Scorsese crime epic The Irishman, which stars Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, and Joe Pesci. The company put up $200 million for Red Notice, an action thriller featuring Dwayne Johnson, Gal Gadot, and Ryan Reynolds. Ten Netflix films are scheduled to debut theatrically before the end of the year.

Netflix is also experimenting with more-novel formats, as in Bandersnatch, a Black Mirror special designed as an interactive, choose-your-own-adventure story. It's a video game disguised as a movie based on a television series owned by a tech company that makes more TV than any actual TV network. That's what television is today.

WHY JEFF BEZOS IS SPENDING $250 MILLION ON LORD OF THE RINGS

Netflix isn't the only one breaking rules and busting budgets. Amazon Prime Video has been churning out high-quality scripted shows for years, often splashing out huge sums for well-known properties and talent. The company lured Julia Roberts, once the biggest female movie star on the planet, onto the small screen for Homecoming, a half-hour drama based on a podcast about a military conspiracy. It spent $250 million for the rights to make a television series based on Lord of the Rings. Amazon gives the services away as part of a package deal with Amazon Prime, which entitles subscribers to free two-day shipping on many of the products the company sells.

Why is Amazon paying Julia Roberts to appear on television and making a Lord of the Rings show? Partly because Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is the richest man in the world, which means he doesn't need a reason. Partly because he's a nerd. (Bezos, a known sci-fi fan, also had his company acquire the rights to the intrasolar space epic The Expanse after it was canceled on its original home, the cable network SyFy.)

But mostly because Amazon wants to sell you more dog food. Or toilet paper. Or Virginia Postrel books. Or batteries or bottles of passion fruit concentrate or actual televisions (after you demo them at Best Buy). It doesn't matter, really. Amazon, which, like Netflix, has a mass of data on its users' habits, has long known that Prime subscribers spend far more than nonsubscribers, so it is laying out $6 billion for video content this year to make that subscription more enticing. It's just another perk, like flat-fee grocery delivery.

Amazon is also in the content business for the simple reason that it is a tech company with money. This similarly explains the existence of Facebook Watch, a service that, despite its relatively low profile, claimed 75 million daily viewers for such shows as Sorry for Your Loss, starring Elizabeth Olsen as a young widow, and Sacred Lies, about an ex-cult member. Facebook is in the spending-time-on-Facebook business, and TV shows give people a new way to spend time. Tinder, the popular dating app, recently announced Swipe Night, a four-episode, choose-your-own-adventure "series" that is part video game, part soap opera, designed to serve as a first-date activity. Why Netflix and chill when you can Tinder and hook up?

This also helps justify the existence of Apple TV+, a new service debuting in November with an array of heavyweight titles, including new shows from A-list creators Steven Spielberg and J.J. Abrams. The Morning Show, a glossy insider drama about a morning talk program, starring Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon, and Steve Carell, cost a reported $15 million per episode—the same as the final season of HBO's fantasy epic Game of Thrones.

Apple has money, and it is trying to figure out its future in a world where everyone who wants an iPhone already has one. So it's making television…about television.

At the September event where it announced the launch date of its new service, Apple also announced a major new foray into mobile video games, including Beyond a Steel Sky, a sequel to a cult favorite 1994 adventure game featuring design work by Watchmen artist Dave Gibbons. In some loose sense this is television too, a lavishly produced, partially scripted thing you watch on a screen, the goal of which is to capture your attention (and perhaps sell you another screen).

And then there is Disney. Like Apple, it has money. And like Netflix, it's in the business of producing entertainment for both the small and the big screens. (As of this summer, four of 2019's top five domestic box-office hits were Disney films.) But Disney also has theme parks, and plush toys, and T-shirts, and lunch boxes, all of which are adorned with its characters. And Disney's movies, especially those set in the world of Marvel Comics characters (Iron Man, Captain America, and the rest of the Avengers), have increasingly taken the form of big-budget, big-screen shows—serialized, multi-character, episodic programming about friends who hang out, work together, and just happen to have superpowers. Disney's new streaming service will feature several series based on those same heroes, with stories that connect to the larger cinematic plotline, joining TV and movies more closely than we've ever seen before.

MURDER HOUSE FLIP IS A REAL SHOW

Have you heard of Quibi? You will. Launching in April 2020, it's the brainchild of former Disney executive Jeffrey Katzenberg, who raised more than $1 billion for a channel devoted to making short-form content designed to be watched on mobile devices. Among other projects, Quibi is planning a phone-sized remake of The Fugitive, starring Kiefer Sutherland, and a "true-crime home renovation series" called Murder House Flip.

Or maybe you won't hear about it. No one knows which of these services will become the next Netflix and which will become the next Pets.com. Indeed, among the front-runners for failure is Netflix itself. Despite a massive customer base and associated revenues, the streaming giant burns enormous amounts of cash on its content and has recently missed subscriber growth targets. And it faces stiff competition from the new services being launched by Apple and Disney, both of which will initially cost less than a typical Netflix subscription.

The problem for Netflix is that creating and selling access to shows is its core business. If you don't subscribe, it doesn't make money.

For Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and to some extent Disney, TV shows are a secondary product. Sure, they'll take your money every month. But Amazon only needs you to buy trash bags, and Apple only needs you to buy iPhones, and Disney just needs you (or your child) to love Star Wars and to buy lunch boxes and theme park tickets accordingly. Since you already love Star Wars, own an iPhone, and need trash bags, Disney, Apple, and Amazon are probably going to be OK.

A BILLION DOLLARS FOR BIG BANG THEORY?

This is the reality of the streaming era: There is a lot of television. And there is going to be a lot more of it—much, much more than anyone can ever watch. It will be weirder and less constrained by time or platform or format conventions than ever before.

The benefits for consumers are obvious: an endless supply of high-quality filmed entertainment, some of it truly great, much of it pretty good, none of it subject to federal prudishness. By displacing the broadcast networks as the primary outlet for scripted series, the streaming boom takes the FCC out of the content production process, reducing its power as a censor.

At least for now, these services are not expensive. Apple TV+ will cost $5 per month and be free for the first year if you purchase any Apple device. Disney's opening price is $6.99 per month. Even following several rounds of price increases, Netflix's standard plan is just $12.99 per month. HBO Max, which will bundle HBO originals with other content from Warner-Media, the company that owns the cable network, is expected to be the most expensive at $15–$17 per month. That's comparable to the cost of adding HBO to a cable subscription, while delivering an even greater wealth of content.

Speaking of cable subscriptions, the streaming boom threatens to render them obsolete—sort of. In the '90s and '00s, politicians and regulators regularly pushed to require cable companies to offer their services a la carte—allowing customers to buy only the channels they want. This was thought to be family-friendly (you could block channels you deem inappropriate for kids) as well as a way to save money (no more larded-up cable packages). Unbundling was a political imperative.

Streaming services accomplished this without legislation or regulation. Netflix offers a kid-friendly variant and password protection for adult accounts. Cord cutters can skip the cable TV package and pick their favorite streaming options. Yet the coming glut of services means that an ambitious unbundler who wants access to everything could end up paying, in total, about the same amount he previously did for cable, especially once prices inevitably rise. And the underlying internet service itself is still provided by a cable or phone company.

So this is what television is now: a system designed to maximize entertainment optionality, to ensure that not only is there always something you could watch, but there's always something you—specifically, individually, uniquely you—actually want to watch. Television, that old vehicle for the transmission of common culture, has become a tool for choosing and expressing what makes each one of us singular.

The quirks of the concepts, the variety of the delivery systems, the emphasis on serving ever-tinier niche audiences, and the sheer volume of material being produced might seem overwhelming. But all this is designed to produce a world in which there is something to appeal to every obscure interest, every microdemographic, every autonomous and idiosyncratic individual. The ultimate niche audience is just one person. We're not quite there yet. But the streaming era moves us closer.

And yet neither is the common culture dead. In September, Netflix agreed to pay $500 million for the rights to that classic of network-era television, Seinfeld. The same week, WarnerMedia agreed to pay a reported $1 billion for The Big Bang Theory, one of the longest-running and most successful network shows of the last two decades, which will air exclusively on HBO Max. Just a few months prior, the company agreed to pay $425 million to take over the rights—from Netflix—to another classic show: Friends. 

Whatever television is today, and whatever it eventually becomes, it's still what television used to be, too.

NEXT: Brickbat: Show Us Your 'O Face'

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  1. Have you ever been so fascinated by the bottom of your navel that you decided to cram your head up your ass so you could get a look at it from the other side? Evidently Suderman has.

  2. What a long winded way to say “I’m a snarky millenial who is better than you old people”
    At least that is all I got from the first several paragraphs before bailing on this mess of words that accomplishes nothing

    1. Had you stuck with it, you would have found that he truly does not understand basic physics, advertising, marketing, on-line retail, and the differences among various devices that display ‘things that move’.
      Oh, and he is in love with Best Buy and afraid Amazon is going to run it out of business.

      1. And had you actually paid attention to what you claim to have read, you’d have realized it’s not meant to convey any specific information. It’s a summary of how TV and movie entertainment has changed over the years. A retrospective.

        Concentrating on that sentence fragment about Amazon and Best Buy is pretty damned pathetic.

  3. It’s amazing the way streaming found a way around the cable companies to give consumers choices no one ever thought was possible. AT&T (formerly DirectTV) was losing so many subscribers to its satellite TV service that it set up DirectTV Now as a streaming service to hopefully hold onto DirectTV satellite subscribers fleeing the service. They had to cut prices so low on DirectTV Now that it was killing them on the bottom line. Sony has now decided to pull the plug on Vue, their cable network streaming service because they can’t compete on price either. In other words, consumers have more choices at prices that are so low, it’s squeezing even big players like AT&T and Sony out of the market.

    This is creative destruction at work. Giving consumers more choices to get better content for less necessarily costs the big players more of their profits.

    The day after Thanksgiving last year, I subscribed to Hulu for a one day deal of $0.99 (ninety-nine cents) a month. In exchange for that, I get some of the best reviewed original television put out over the last year–Castle Rock, Das Boot, and The Handmaid’s Tale. I went to Sling for live TV because I can opt out of the news package (don’t have to pay for MSNBC or FoxNews if I don’t want) and I can opt out of paying for the broadcast stations, (ABC, CW, CBS, NBC, Fox) and just get through a Roku app by way of antenna for free. Add Netflix for $9 a month, and I’m getting more and better TV than I ever did before for $29.99 a month–and not paying for the channels I don’t watch and don’t want.

    That’s an increase in the standard of living for people who used to pay more than $100 a month for the same channels on cable–without Hulu or Netflix. I wish more people appreciated that this is the way economic growth happens–competition (foreign or otherwise) comes along and eats some other company’s profits by offering consumers more for less. Meanwhile, consumers getting more and more choices for less and less cost means they have more and more discretionary income to spend–the savings they used to squander on paying more for the same things they’re getting now for less. This is the way economies grow. This is the say living standards improve.

    There’s no good reason to care whether the cable companies were getting kicked in the nuts by the Chinese or some American competitor either–not unless you’re a stockholder in one of those companies or an employee. And the idea that the government should protect bloated rent seekers like the cable companies or AT&T from foreign competition because of shareholders and employees is exactly like suggesting that the living standards of American consumers shouldn’t improve unless doing so stuffs the cable companies’ pockets full of cash. That’s basically what socialism is–plus the idea that the cash being sucked out of the pockets of consumers should go towards overpaying union members more and more for doing less and less.

    1. That’s an increase in the standard of living for people who used to pay more than $100 a month for the same channels on cable–without Hulu or Netflix. I wish more people appreciated that this is the way economic growth happens–competition (foreign or otherwise) comes along and eats some other company’s profits by offering consumers more for less. Meanwhile, consumers getting more and more choices for less and less cost means they have more and more discretionary income to spend–the savings they used to squander on paying more for the same things they’re getting now for less. This is the way economies grow. This is the say living standards improve.

      Very well said. I’m using this example to explain economic growth to my friends from now on.

    2. That creative destruction bit is spot-on, and something that many were yelling for years as the government tried to stifle cable and broadcasters in the name of central planning. I have no doubt the lesson is lost on those who need it most.

    3. “I went to Sling for live TV because I can opt out of the news package (don’t have to pay for MSNBC or FoxNews if I don’t want) and I can opt out of paying for the broadcast stations, (ABC, CW, CBS, NBC, Fox) and just get through a Roku app by way of antenna for free.”

      How do you connect to these services without a high-speed internet connection? What’s this “Roku app by way of antenna?” I want to do the same thing but am stuck still paying Comcast for internet access (not cheap). And I’m in a lousy cell-reception area.

      1. If you see this, hit me up in another thread sometime.

  4. Just so we’re clear on this TV concept, the fourth (and final) season of Man in the High Castle is due next Friday.

    1. In one of the alternate realities, Rick and Morty starts Sunday.

      1. You jackass! You’re supposed to put a spoiler alert tag on comments if you’re going to give away the ending like that. I was hoping they went to an alternate universe where My Name Is Earl was still on.

    2. Eh, the third season was mediocre. I am still gonna watch, but without much excitement. In fact, I am getting burned out. I think peak TV has peaked. I haven’t seen anything good all year. Does anyone have any recommendations?

      1. do the first couple seasons of The Sopranos again it’s interesting 20 years later

      2. Barry, The Boys, Living with Yourself, What We Do in the Shadows (not as good as the movie, but still better than most comedies IMO)
        and I thought the last season of Veep was great

      3. The best series I’ve seen recently is Russian Dolls.

      4. I mean, I also have a CrunchyRoll sub and watch a lot of anime, but I’ll assume you’re not interested. I liked Dark a lot (from Netflix – german show with dubs). I really liked the first season of Jack Ryan (Amazon) and the second season dropped recently; it was pretty good but less so than the first season. Undone (Amazon) was pretty solid, as well. And while it’s not a recent show, exactly, the Limitless TV series did come to Netflix this year – it’s surprisingly good given how badly I expected it to turn out, rather watchable though I wouldn’t say it’s the height of TV art.

  5. Eventually they’ll split off until virtually every single show has its own streaming service to which viewers must subscribe, and the black market will take over distribution.

    1. It was already becoming that. Around 2005 there were so many channels and then offshoots of those channels that you would turn one on and it seemed like there was the Jersey Shore Channel, Law and Order Channel, Deadliest Catch Channel, Etc because every day was just a marathon of the same show.

      Once Netflix rolled out there were competitors, but Hulu won out the other competitors and then Disney is going to win that. Cable is dying and AMC streaming, HBO streaming, etc like you said is looking like it’s going to be the next thing, but it won’t. It will cost too much and you might as well just pay for cable with a DVR because it will be cheaper. That’s when people just watch youtube, have 1 streaming service unless they’re foootball or WWE fans, consider AMC streaming to be pay-per-view tier television, and Disney is setting itself to be that streaming service everyone has.

      Don’t fuck with the mouse. He’ll murder your entire family, burn down your homestead, and have orgies of blood upon the ashes. However, you can watch The Black Hole anytime you want.

      1. It will cost too much and you might as well just pay for cable with a DVR because it will be cheaper.

        Except that the old cable service will no longer be available, every streaming service will be a walled garden and how are you going to know what’s available if all you’ve got is 4 or 5 streaming services that sure as hell aren’t going to be advertising the competition? How long can Netflix and Amazon hang around when every major movie studio has its own distribution channel? I think basically it will be like Blockbuster getting resurrected as an on-line movie rental store. Like you say, everybody’s going to be watching Youtube and one or two streaming services and that’s it. Everything else is going to be pay-per-view.

        1. I rent a lot of movies through Amazon, so I gotta say it feels remarkably like the ghost of Blockbuster already haunts us, in a good way.

      2. It will cost too much and you might as well just pay for cable with a DVR because it will be cheaper.

        I doubt it. People rotate through streaming services. They don’t subscribe to all of them every single month.

    2. Eventlually they’ll split off until every single person’s producing a video channel. Since nobody has the time to watch everybody else’s, they’ll record, play back, and watch their own.

  6. YouTube has murdered my attention span.

    1. YouTube’s non-stop commercial blitz has murdered my YouTube addiction.

      1. Adblock for Youtube™

        chrome://extensions/?id=cmedhionkhpnakcndndgjdbohmhepckk

        1. chrome://extensions/?id=cmedhionkhpnakcndndgjdbohmhepckk

  7. Not going to lie, I only made it through a few paragraphs of this article, probably because I watch too much television.

    But holy shit there are a LOT of streaming platforms getting launched. I keep a pretty tight budget limited to $30/month for streaming.. which pretty much gets me 2-3 services each month which I rotate around. I feel like this market has to be reaching a saturation point sometime soon. Is this a bubble? Does every single studio need to launch its own streaming platform or even have enough content to support one?

    I can make it through all the Netflix content I want to watch within 2-3 months. Then I turn the service off for 9 months and tune back in to see what content has built up for me to see while I was gone. Because of the behavior of people like me, I expect these streaming services will stop dumping entire seasons of their original content shows all at launch – they’ll put up 1-2 episodes per week like traditional TV. That way they can get you to pay for 3-4 months of the service to watch an entire season of their original content. They might give you an option to pay for a higher tier of service to get all the episodes at once, or to get 1 extra episode a week or something, but I doubt it.

    1. Disney is doing this with their launch of their own streaming service. Spreading out the sites so little have to stay subscribed.

      Netflix has shit itself un the foot, because now their viewership expects it all to be available at once.

  8. i love how new media make serial shows capable … the :30/1:00 tv and 1:30/2:10 movie windows stifled creativity … some stories need 10 hours to tell

    1. Yeah, I’m one of those nutters in the miniseries demo, and I’m glad that the new distribution methods have made it a viable format. I totally understand some people not liking two hour episodes with a six-episode single season, but for whatever reason I feel like it’s conducive to the kinds of stories I like (particularly it seems good for novel adaptations).

  9. An unmentioned aspect is the sheer number of cast and crew necessary to make all these shows and movies. I’d be really interested in a similar article about how much and how that is rising. Is it turning a lot of part-timers into full-timers? Is it pulling more high school kids into drama classes? Are a lot of old actors who had given up now resuming their careers, especially once the kids have grown up?

    1. There’s an interesting study on this by some labor economists. What they’ve found, in a preliminary fashion at least, is that it seems to be applying downward pressure on wages for the very highly paid talent, but labor spending is increasing overall. So basically, there’s way more acting jobs than ever existed previously, but most of those actors don’t get paid millions of dollars (although they still seem to be making a pretty comfortable living). It also seems to be seriously stressing the labor unions that govern a lot of movie and TV filming. In an effort to cut costs this profusion of TV shows has started shooting in cheaper locales, and it seems to have reached the critical mass of business necessary to support rival technical operations. So, there are lighting, rigging, scenery etc. companies that have the necessary experience and talent to competently shoot your production that are not the unionized, expensive Hollywood operations.

      Intriguingly however, SAG seems to be profiting from this, since they’ve never applied a lot of pressure re: wages and instead operate mostly to make it easy to do insurance contributions for their members, that sort of thing.

  10. The apotheosis of this style of television was the long-running, insanely popular 1990s sitcom Friends

    I would have to disagree. Even by the 1980’s tv viewership was fragmenting. The sort of cultural hegemony that tv could impose was something that *was* a product of the ‘three network era* – which killed in 1990 with the introduction of the Fox network on top of a massive increase in accessibility to cable tv.

    Friends was popular, sure. *But the majority of viewers didn’t watch it regularly* because there were already too many other options. If people were having ‘discussions around the water cooler’ – they were discussions on the latest episode of The Simpsons or South Park. Or B5. Or Seinfeld. Or The X Files, or ER, or King of The Hill, or Dennis Franz’ ass.

    1. I read that as emphasizing it was the kind of program you would leave on without watching, just to have that comforting drone in the background. The few words you actually needed to hear were obvious; you didn’t need to actually see the screen.

  11. I get OTA through the antenna. There are over 60 channels available in my area. That’s more than enough. If enough people gave up on streaming and cable those shows would make their way to my eyeballs somehow.
    I spoke to someone who has Comcast cable. their prices went up and they are moving channels off their next to basic package. TCM is the latest to go. Somehow they have added charges for local tv access and a surcharge for local sports. Don’t know how they got away with that. I hooked my neighbor up with a dual input switch so they can change from cable to antenna on the fly. Turns out >90% of their viewing is through the antenna now.

    1. “Turns out >90% of their viewing is through the antenna now.”

      Sounds like those people who have gone back to vinyl LPs. Do antennae programs have a warmer feel to them?

      1. Comcast even charges extra to broadcast hi-def, so yeah antenna programs do have a warmer feel to them.

  12. What’s with all the fuss over Netflix? I’ve been using bittorrent for at least a decade before Netflix came into being. What have I been missing?

    1. You have to download a bittorrent client such as Transmission and download torrents from a website like The Pirate Bay. You don’t need to pay anything or give anyone your personal information. (They even have their own libertarianish political party.)

      1. That used to be how I got most of my media. Once I lost my free vpn service and had to put up with dozens of emails from the isp about pirated material I found other ways and started watching different things.

      2. Well, the Pirate Party is only libertarian by EU standards, and even then only kind of.

  13. Why the scant, oblique, only-implied mention of YouTube, Vimeo, and the like? Now we can all watch each other’s home movies.

    I must be an oddball, because I recall TV’s consistent fictional portrayal of home movies as what people would get out to get their guests to leave, while I always loved home movies — anybody’s, as far as I could tell. At least broadcast TV caught on some years ago with clips shows of what amounted to home out-takes. Our insurance agent had one accidental reel that couldn’t’ve been done as well as if they’d tried: a double exposure of a birthday party and a Niagara Falls trip. “Trip” is just the word to describe the Canadian and American falls cascading over a cake with birthday candles lit. Supposedly that double-8 film had a safeguard against that, but fortunately it failed.

  14. They don’t get it.

    For all the billions they’re putting in, they don’t get it.

    Netflix understood. People don’t want to pay for channels–or channel packages. They want to pay for shows. Endless individual shows.

    Then Hulu got it.

    Then Amazon.

    And then the idiots marched in. Disney, CBS, and the Destroyer, Apple. As well as all the rest who are attempting to sell niche channels.

    WE DON’T WANT CHANNELS.

    We want a service–one that will grab what we want to watch and charge some miniscule amount for it that can be squashed into a simple monthly subscription fee of 10-20 bucks. We want EVERYTHING that interests us for that ten to twenty bucks.

    And we think it should BE that cheap because we don’t think what WE pay should include paying for dreck like the Hallmark channel or BET, or SyFy or whateverthehellelse we don’t like.

    If someone likes that crap then they can pay for it. And if no one likes it….then it can go away.

    Unfortunately, everyone’s going the ‘channel’ route.

    Which means the entire thing will collapse in a year or to down to those who are providing what people want instead of what they’re telling people to need.

    I hope Netflix survives the upcoming stream war. Because they STILL understand.

    1. Yeah, I personally like Netflix, and I’ve maintained my subscription with them from back in the old DVDs-by-mail days. I’m hoping that they can keep their shareholders calm enough to recognize that they’re gonna lose some market share as this streaming war gets heated up, but once the dust settles they’ll regain a lot of subscriptions as they absorb some of the losers’ content. Netflix has deep pockets, so I think they’ll be fine if they stay the course and suffer some short-term pain in an effort to maintain the quality of their service.

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