Category: online media

What is your content tolerance?

There was a time when I would subscribe to HBO solely for seeing “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “Deadwood,” but today’s crowded field of content providers means that you’ll likely be forking over cash for access to beloved content. You can access HBO through HBO Now, as well as offerings from Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and now, Fullscreen.

Assuming you’re an aficionado of Bret Easton Ellis or “Electra Woman & Dyna Girl,” and you can afford the $4.99-a-month subscription fee, you may be a Fullscreen customer. But this begs the question: With limited resources, how will you prioritize both your time and money to see certain programs? This will be the question many of us will face as the days of broadcast networks fade away in lieu of subscription fees become the norm. Already, the advent of cord-cutters have viewers getting the bulk of their content from the likes of the aforementioned content distributors.

There is a lot to be learned about how viewing habits are acclimating to this brave new world of media, and the days of channel surfing have given way to ordering from a menu, knowing that even the menu is limited by who owns what. Or will advertising-based content take over subscriptions because of the cost and time limitations?

Content is back to being king!

Media’s love affair with content has been in an ebb and flow for years. But as the means of distribution continue down the path of more choices for less cost, the value of owning content has returned to its throne of supremacy in this digital age. Increasingly, content consumers are choosing their online destination by virtue of where it can get the desired programming.

Once upon a time, the major studios would supply content to the highest bidder, even if that was a direct competitor. Indeed, it was common for Warner Brothers Television and others to supply the spectrum of broadcasters, without regard to who was distributing it. But in this age of Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, etc., owning content takes on greater importance.

That is what makes this Ad Age article particularly enlightening. Clearly, Comcast is pursuing a strategy of owning as much of its content as possible, with its move to acquire DreamWorks Animation.

“Content owners have become increasingly valuable as of late and we could argue Comcast sees potential value in the library of franchises, characters that could be integrated,” said Eric Wold, a B. Riley & Co. analyst covering the entertainment industry.

It is likely that the success of Netflix has been largely a result of its being the sole source of programs like “House Of Cards” and “Orange Is The New Black.” And, apropos of the DreamWorks Animation news, Amazon Studios has been an avid producer of children’s programming.

This is good news for creators, but like everything in entertainment, conditions can change on a moment’s notice, so get while the getting is good, because it may not last. One scenario that I think may be a trend is the sourcing of content via app, as opposed to cable, satellite or SVOD (Subscription Video On Demand).

The game of chicken being played with programming

In what is becoming a common occurrence in the entertainment world, Dish Network avoided a blackout of all Viacom properties (Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, MTV, BET, etc.) with a last-minute deal to secure this critical programming. This is just the latest in a long history of brinkmanship between cable and satellite providers, and the owners of programming.

It went to the bitter end, but Viacom needed a boost to its stock price, and Dish’s 14 million subscribers might make a meaningful dent in its advertiser rates, as well as setting a precedent that might come back and bite it in the you-know-what:

“News of the deal should give Viacom shareholders relief. The stock was up about 5% on Wednesday after Ergen’s comments and soared 9% ($3.41 per share) to $40.70 each in early trading Thursday. Analysts had feared that losing Dish for any length of time would affect future carriage deals with other distributors and set the stage for continued pushback against other content companies concerning the high cost of programming.”

Not that Dish was in the driver’s seat either:

“Dish was also incented to do a deal after losing about 23,000 pay TV customers in the first quarter, a loss that was tempered by gains in the Sling TV service. MoffettNathanson principal and senior analyst Craig Moffett estimated that Dish lost about 158,000 satellite TV customers in the quarter, offset by a gain of 135,000 Sling TV subscribers. Some analysts had predicted that losing Viacom could result in as many as one-third of Dish customers heading for alternative providers.”

This is further proof that there is significant pressure to produce and own programs to avoid these showdowns, and with the advent of new means of distribution, these battles will morph into different battles with new stakes.

Given the choice, would you opt for sushi programming?

Okay, okay. This is my way of asking about ala carte programming for your television. With the explosion of options in what to watch at home, would you prefer the current slate of channels from your cable or satellite provider, or would you prefer something that more resembles a sushi menu? In other words, a screen with every channel available with a checkbox next to it. Then you simply click the boxes of the channels that you want to receive. You would be charged per selection, with some (such as ESPN or HBO) going for top dollar, and others (such as The Food Network and The Military Channel) going for less.

Another way to look at it is, will all video boil down to two choices: 1) Live (or close to it) programming? This would primarily be sports, politics, award shows, and news. Or 2) Anything that is not time-sensitive? I can watch most of my programs anytime. The only pressure coming from being “in the know” so that I can talk and read about the shows without having the drama spoiled (yes, the dreaded “spoiler alerts”).

The future of programming in a digital universe has many implications, and they’re being tested around the globe as we explore the implications of each. Often, what the consumer wants isn’t necessarily what the corporations feel is in their best interest. But with the rapid deployment of options, I can guarantee that some enterprising upstart will stumble across a winning formula. Certainly, Netflix and Amazon are already rewriting the rules.

Very exciting!

The king is dead! Long live the king! And then there’s Louis CK…

And when I say king, I mean content… as in, content is king. In the halcyon days of multi-million dollars “overall” deals for show creators in network television, the idea was that major TV studios (WBTV, Twentieth Television, Carsey Werner, Castle Rock, etc.) were keeping folks like David Kelley, Stephen Bochco, Dick Wolf, and Angell, Casey & Lee, under their respective corporate umbrellas. The arrangement would go something like this: They would be guaranteed a few million dollars a year over the course of a few years, and anything they created would first be offered to the studio to develop. If they passed, then the creators could take it to other buyers (usually, but not always). If nothing resulted in a series that particular season, then they could either just sit and create for the next season, or might be placed on another of the studio’s shows to help.

After reading this item from Business Insider, I am increasingly convinced that we might be returning to those days. As network loyalty is becoming a quaint notion, the providers of digital media will simply auction their talents to the highest bidder. But this won’t be just a matter of dollars. As Kevin Spacey and David Fincher have demonstrated with “House Of Cards,” artists are willing to exchange some of the upfront money for a piece of the company or greater creative freedom. I recall some rather upset writers who were forced to acquiesce to the “network suits” of yesteryear.

I guess what I’m saying – and seeing – is the creative path will go one of two ways. One is to follow folks like Louis CK and create your own product and distribute it yourself. But as he’s learning, that path has its own challenges. The other is to ply your wares to the highest bidder, and that bid may be in the way of dollars, creative freedom or a piece of the action.

No man is an island, but will every creator be a channel?

I recall the time back in 2000 that I reached out to David Kelley (creator of “Ally McBeal” and others) about his interest in writing for an internet site, as opposed to his studio at 20th Century Fox TV. In retrospect, I realize how silly that suggestion must have sounded, but it goes to an idea that I am starting to see in every corner of the digital media universe.

In reading this item from Mashable (Kevin Hart, Lionsgate team up for ‘Laugh Out Loud’ streaming service), I thought that there are now creators who have achieved a certain level of distinction which might warrant venturing out on one’s own. Sure, I had thought David Kelley had reached it back in 2000, but now folks like  Kevin Hart and Will Ferrell have launched web channels that stand alone. And it’s not just comedy – there is FiveThirtyEight from polling wunderkind Nate Silver, Nerdist from Chris Hardwick, and so on.

This begs the question, what is the measure of notoriety that would inspire someone to launch their own channel? One interesting microcosm is YouTube. As certain YouTube stars reach incredible numbers of subscribers, I have to ask when they might decide they can do better on their own – with their own video platform, advertising sales force, production facilities, etc. – than relying on YouTube. Certainly, FunnyOrDie is one example, and perhaps PewDiePie will be next (43 million YouTube subscribers and counting).

It seems that Kevin Hart has decided to let Lionsgate handle some of these duties, but the trend of sports leagues illustrates the perils of becoming too reliant on a creator (or copyright holder) for content, when that person or group may decide going it alone is too profitable to ignore. Just look as ESPN’s effect on Disney’s stock price recently. That seems to be the direction that Netflix, Amazon and Hulu are going. I suppose we’ll see…

Is this the start of true VR content?

With the Oculus Rift now hitting shelves, and competing headsets either already here, or on the way, what is the future of virtual reality? Ever since seeing VR5 on Fox in the mid-1990s, and “The Lawnmower Man” with Jeff Fahey in 1992, I’ve longed for a story that matched the promise of virtual reality. And, according to AdAge, so are others out there.

You’ve probably seen the “Hardcore Henry” trailer recently, and I am fearful that this is the start of content specifically designed for virtual reality. In the same way that writing for video games differs from interactive television, which differs from sequential storytelling, there needs to be a compelling reason to see a story told via a special mechanism or appliance. I can’t tell you how often I was lured into 3-D movies with the red and blue glasses, only to be bored silly with the inane plots and exaggerated movements. Many of you will recall the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books, too, and they all point to the faddish nature of these efforts.

There is a lot of money invested, and at stake, in the next iteration of tech-based storytelling, and the first to crack that code will likely become very wealthy. But with the recent history of these kind of efforts, I will not hold my breath, because the many will try, but few will succeed – at least, for a while.

 

This sounds a lot like TV Land…

So, Fullscreen is introducing a subscription service, and in reviewing its offerings, I was struck by how much it sounds like another version of the cable network, TV Land.

The $4.99-per-month subscription will feature scripted and unscripted original content as well as movies and TV shows from the ’80s and ’90s like “Saved by the Bell,”…

My question is, will TV Land compete for these online viewers by simply taking its expertise from cable to the internet? And will this see the start of bidding war for access to old television shows and other content?

Ultimately, it does point to the need for every player to create their own unique content, much like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu are doing now.