Sunday, December 9, 2007

The Future of TV

So I'm a TV junkie. I watch a lot of it, though sometimes that's in big blocks of a single evening rather than really keeping up with shows. There are a few I keep up with, even through this semester. Some of them I freely own up to watching: Heroes, House, Bones and some I sheepishly hang my head when admitting: Grey's Anatomy, and then there are the ones I will never really confess to watching. (Nope, not telling!) Well, this blasted writer's strike is making my break time a little more difficult -- or broadening my TV habits, depending on my mood. And I don't blame the writers, btw. I think the future of TV is the internet, that the watershed moment will occur during the next three years (the length of the contract they negotiate) and I don't think they should settle for less than a fair share of the revenue. The fact that they are also fighting over DVD residuals should show just how much they need to negotiate a favorable rate before the internet boom hits TV. 

On the other hand, the way the studios are rolling out this internet TV mystifies me. I have yet to turn on my television in about a year. Why? Because if a show doesn't show up on-line I don't watch it. Or, if I do watch it, I watch it illegally. (I only do this if I can't watch it on the network. I don't mind commercials -- well, a few -- but I do demand the convenience of the internet and being able to watch shows/catch up on shows at my convenience.) But there are stations that only put up the most recent two or three episodes. Why would you do this? If you want to increase viewership to a show, what a great resource to direct people on-line where they can catch up on the first five episodes and start watching on TV, or continue watching online. How do the networks not see the potential of this? Probably because the stats are low-ish for the number of people who regularly watch tv online. Which is why they need to advertise it...

But the studios appear to be terrified that in posting episodes online they risk loosing control of the show, which is why I think the writers should wise up to the real potential of the internet. The only way a studio makes money off a tv show is if they sell advertisements. So when the tv show is loaded up for free, the writers get their work out, but the studio loses. Somebody Should realize that there is a lot more potential in a TV show for advertising than an obnoxious 15-30 sec commercial. (Particularly if it happens to be the same one that plays 7 times during the same episode. Seriously, the only thing that does is make me determined not to buy Ziploc bags. They're bad for the environment, too, so I'm not just being petty.) 

Here's how I would run a TV show if I were in charge. Get great writers (Joss Whedon, Rob Thomas) and great actors (Kirsten Bell, David Anders, Hugh Laurie, so forth) and write a funny, hip, whatever TV show. Post it online for free and let viewers do whatever they want with it: copy it, burn it, upload it, etc. Then, I'd tap the advertising potential completely. 

Every show has the following: clothing, furniture, cars, food, books, etc. Even if they are not directly referenced in the show (like clothing), they slip quietly into viewer's unconscious. Don't believe me? Find out how many people watch Gossip Girl because of the fabulous outfits! But silly, obvious product placements don't work. Instead, have the set designer, the costume designer, the make-up crew, etc. write a per-episode blog detailing what their inspirations for a costume were, where the materials came from, etc. If the show is hip and well-done, people will flock to these blogs to figure out how to do just the same thing themselves. 

Advertisers should love this b/c they suddenly have an audience that not only is interested in their product, but is more likely to buy it because of the cool factor and its ready accessibility. And this can be done without compromising anything in the way of the show, unlike those ridiculous, "you gave me a car? I just love Saturns, look at the seating and I can take everyone to the game on Friday!!" sorts of ridiculousnesses.

In short, the writers really only need the studio for production space, costs, etc. It's expensive to make an episode. But the studio recoups all that money they spend on advertising -- so if you went straight to the source, wouldn't you be able to cut out the middleman? Wait, this sounds like what Radiohead is doing. Wonder how long it will take to trickle over to the West Coast? 

__________ did!

Update (1/8/08): nice blurb in the NYTimes also suggesting (though not as extensively as I dream of) that tv should just be online and network free. Here's hoping!

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