Yesterday, my friend Amy Berg wrote on Facebook:
People are turning off the TV and turning to the internet for entertainment. We may not like it, but it’s fact. Which is why I’m making digital series. Better to be out in front of the revolution than scrambling to keep up.
She linked to an article that says: TV is dying, and here are the stats to prove it.
The TV business is having its worst year ever.
Audience ratings have collapsed: Aside from a brief respite during the Olympics, there has been only negative ratings growth on broadcast and cable TV since September 2011, according to Citi Research.
Media stock analysts Craig Moffett and Michael Nathanson recently noted, “The pay-TV industry has reported its worst 12-month stretch ever.” All the major TV providers lost a collective 113,000 subscribers in Q3 2013. That doesn’t sound like a huge deal — but it includes internet subscribers, too.
Broadband internet was supposed to benefit from the end of cable TV, but it hasn’t.
In all, about 5 million people ended their cable and broadband subs between the beginning of 2010 and the end of this year.
It’s a fascinating article, and worth reading if you care about this sort of thing like I do. Setting aside the reality that you never hear someone declare: “Oh man, I fucking LOVE my cable company! They are the BEST! Their customer service is, like, UNBELIEVABLE, and I REALLY get my money’s worth for my subscription fees. I love my cable company so much, and they’ve totally earned my business and loyalty!” and so it’s likely that younger customers are fleeing cable because the experience — not necessarily just the content — sucks, I want to talk briefly about creating original content for online distribution.
I remember a time, in the not too distant past, when we’d feel like we had to justify ourselves for making a webseries, like it wasn’t real TV or film. It was like we were creating for online because we couldn’t make it in the big leagues, and had to seek out an alternative. In some ways, that was true, because in the traditional way of doing things, we had to appeal to gatekeepers at networks and mid-level development executives who were more afraid of losing their jobs than they were excited to make something new. That makes sense: there’s a shitload of money at stake for most productions, and it’s only logical that the people in charge of spending that money would be risk-averse — But what’s the point of being in a creative industry if you’re not willing to take some creative risks? That’s where the Internet came in, and fundamentally changed everything for creators. We could take risks, we could make content that maybe wouldn’t appeal to tens of millions of people, but would appeal to hundreds of thousands. We didn’t need to compete with other creators for ratings during a narrow broadcast window, because we understood that our audiences would watch our stuff on their terms, when and where and how they wanted to. We understood that the world was changing, and people would be watching programming on smartphones and tablets, frequently time shifted for their convenience. We knew that because we were those people.
Being those people, and creating for those people, has let us who are the tip of the spear in online distribution continue to just destroy the legacy media companies: we don’t want to control how our audiences get to watch and enjoy and share the things we make. We understand that attempting to control the experience people have when they watch our stuff just makes them find ways around that control, usually in a way that hurts our bottom line and our ability to support ourselves.
Around the second season I did of The Guild, I stopped feeling like I had to apologize for or justify creating original content for Internet instead of television. I stopped feeling like we were playing in the minor leagues, or engaging in a long and expensive audition for “real” work. I recognized that were were ahead of the curve, and the rest of the entertainment industry was going to have to catch up with us. It was so liberating, and it’s been so exciting for me as a producer and consumer to watch new talent emerge online that would never get a chance if TV was the only option.
The successes and failures in Google’s You Tube thing that made Geek and Sundry possible provide a great example of those who get it and don’t: the channels that the major networks and studios used to dump existing content failed, and the channels that made original content thrived. I think it’s safe to say that the legacy content producers and networks just don’t understand the online audience in the way they think they do. I think they’re afraid of online in a lot of ways, because a lot of the older executives who make decisions about digital are still fighting Napster in their heads. I understand their fear, but they’re going to have to come and join us here in the future, or they’re going to wither and die.
We who make webserieses (is that a word? It is now) have been in the future for a few years now, and I’m very interested to see what happens as people who are used to being the king of the mountain without really trying are forced to compete — or at least share space — with those of us who have worked very hard to earn whatever we have online.
Broadcast, cable, satellite, and movies will always be there, and they’ll always have fantastic and lousy content (just like the internet), and I hope that I’ll continue to work across all mediums as an actor and producer. But looking to the real future (the one that is ahead of us, as opposed to the one we live in now): I’ve believed for years that the next generation of creators will go online and play by their own rules. The next Joss Whedon will never have to deal with an evil FOX executive who ruins the next Firefly because of reasons, andI hope that I get to work with him or her someday, because that person is going to make something wonderful.