House of Cards

BLURRED LINES: What is “Television”?

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If you are watching a great dramatic series on a streaming service, on your iPad, on your phone, on your laptop, or all of the above, is it still television?

In the days of yore, we had the television networks, limited content choices, and we liked it.  Then came cable and we liked the networks a little less. Then came satellite and hundreds of channels and we were able to pick and choose to our hearts’ content (whilst paying for 878 channels we could care less about). Then we had VCRs and DVRs and television execs were faced with time-shifting, new audience metrics, and the lucky ones were able to retire. Then came that thing called the internet and, suddenly, our micro-interests in cat videos and our longing for a chubby Korean vocal / dance artist, were finally served.

Each time, the wise men of news and entertainment pondered the death of “television” as we knew it.

And then along came Netflix, cutting the cord, second screen viewing on mobile, and the top of the content production and distribution pyramid widened forever. And then Netflix pivoted from VOD to content production.  And then, “House of Cards” was nominated for an Emmy.  What?  THAT’s not television?

The death of television?  No, just the recognition that it’s all about content and story, on demand, and on our terms. You want to define the content vis a vis the type of screen or who made it?  Fine.  Call it television, or an online series, or, well, whatever.   It’s just content. And if you build it well and provide great story, they will come.  Just ask Kevin Spacey.

Spacey’s recent keynote at the Edinburgh Television Festival, summed this up well.  The business models, monetization, and how series and other content get to see the light of day, have changed, but the bottom line of great content = audience engagement, stays the same.

Parks and Recreation” is great network content.  “Breaking Bad” is great cable content.  “Boardwalk Empire” is great subscription-based content.  “House of Cards” is great online content.  “Bite Me” is great YouTube content.  Oh, and by the way, you can watch all of this great content, when, where, and how you wish.

Will the success of “Arrested Development” and other content coming to you courtesy of these upstart production / distribution entities like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, etc. change how the purported dinosaurs in cable and network television develop and produce content? Will the networks toss their traditional shotgun approach and focus on developing fewer, better, content offerings (e.g., instead of 30 pilots to make 2)?  Will the new platforms like Netflix broaden their current original content focus from scripted to other genres (reality, live events, etc.) a la their traditional media brethren? Will all content providers have to customize what they produce based on demand, consumption patterns, and where things are being watched? You bet.  The lines are blurred and good luck defining news and entertainment the old fashioned way.

In the end, somewhere down the line, those kids in your house who watch everything on every conceivable screen, even when they are supposed to be studying, will change the lexicon forever, as the concept of “cool stuff” and “awesome show” are no longer labeled based on where the “dreamy werewolf guy” is watched.  To them, it’s just great content.