On Saving Television

Following on from my earlier rant about ludicrous and archaic regional restrictions on downloadable and streaming media, The Telegraph has an interesting piece looking at the future viability of the television industry as a whole.

They focus on a recent speech given by Kevin Spacey where he discusses how the TV industry (particularly in the USA) must adapt and break away from the pilot -> probationary season model that squashes innovation and sees too many potentially good shows canceled before they have the opportunity to properly establish themselves. Key excerpts of the speech are here:

 

The Telegraph reports:

Giving the MacTaggart lecture at the Edinburgh International Television Festival, the American actor called on the industry to take advantage of massive interest in boxsets and cult dramas such as Breaking Bad to take more risks and have patience with shows that are not instant hits.

Mr Spacey said: “[In 1990] the film industry didn’t believe that television could ever become its biggest competitor. I do not think anyone today 15 years later – [in terms of character driven drama] can argue that television has not indeed taken over.

“The warp-speed of technological advancement – the internet, streaming, multi-platforming – happens to have coincided with the recognition of TV as an art form.

“So you have this incredible confluence of a medium coming into its own just as the technology for that medium is drastically shifting. Studios and networks who ignore either shift – whether the increasing sophistication of storytelling, or the constantly shifting sands of technological advancement – will be left behind.”

All very true. And as we have seen with the industry’s laggardly response in coming to terms with a globalised audience unwilling to accept phased release dates and geographically restricted online access, television does not appear primed to address these challenges.

Spacey continues, with reference to his recent remake of the British political thriller “House of Cards”, which was wildly popular and released as a downloadable “box set” on NetFlix rather than in serial form via one of the traditional broadcast networks:

“If someone can watch an entire season of a TV series in one day, doesn’t that show an incredible attention span? We must observe, adapt and try new things to discover appetites we didn’t know were there.”

This last point really hits the nail on the head. Just as consumers no longer have to flick through a meagre three or four grainy broadcast network channels to get their television fix, neither do they want to consume their favourite shows in one hour increments, dosed out at weekly intervals by the paternalistic TV networks. It is for this reason that TV series “bingeing” has become a phenomena, with many people (myself included) preferring to watch five or six episodes of a favourite show in one sitting, as I have done with Game of Thrones, House of Cards and many others.

The longer that the television industry remains obdurate and inconsiderate of this shift in consumer sentiment and behaviour, the more they will continue to lose out to other business models (such as the NetFlix downloadable series model) and video piracy.

It has never been easier to find episodes of your favourite television show for free, hosted on anonymous websites of dubious legality. The television industry would do well to remember this as they continue to erect more and more bureaucratic and legal obstacles between the consumer and the media that they want to consume.

The full transcript of Kevin Spacey’s lecture can be read here.

On International Video Copyright Restrictions

Rant Of The Day.

So apparently some crazy stuff went down at the VMAs last night. Something about Miley Cyrus gyrating inappropriately, Justin Timberlake reuniting with the Backstreet Boys (or is it ‘NSync?) and all manner of Hollywood elite naughtiness that promised to both amuse and titillate the audience.

I know this because various websites that I read to pass the time – Buzzfeed, Slate, et al. – have been writing and posting articles about the VMA shenanigans throughout the day. The format of said articles (and this doesn’t just apply to the VMAs, but about more or less anything that happens in America) generally follows this pattern:

1. EYE-CATCHING HEADLINE

2. FERVENT ASSURANCE THAT I REALLY WANT TO READ THIS STORY

3. BREATHLESS PARAGRAPH FILLING ME IN ON THE SCANDALOUS DETAILS

4. EMBEDDED VIDEO OF SAID SCANDALOUS HAPPENING IN ALL ITS SALACIOUS GLORY

5. THE “WASN’T THAT SH*T CRAZY?” PERORATION

Only I happen to live in the United Kingdom. Which means that the whole process falls apart when I reach Step 4. Instead of seeing the embedded video (from YouTube, or MTV, or Comedy Central or whoever the hell else), I get this:

4. SORRY, THIS VIDEO IS NOT VIEWABLE FROM YOUR CRAPPY THIRD WORLD COUNTRY. SUCK IT.

Thanks, Slate.com for linking to a video that only 4.45% of the world's population can watch
Thanks, Slate.com for linking to a video that only 4.45% of the world’s population can watch

But – and here’s the kicker – not before they make me sit through the obligatory 30-second commercial for J-Lo’s latest crappy perfume or whatever other shoddily-conceived and made wares that they want me to purchase. As a result, for viewers that God has chosen to curse by not conveniently placing them within the contiguous 48 states of the USA, Step 5 then becomes this:

5. WASN’T THAT GREAT THING THAT YOU DON’T GET TO SEE REALLY AWESOME?

I wouldn’t know, would I? I wouldn’t bloody know.

Comedy Central at least tries to be amusing about the fact that their bloodsucking intellectual property lawyers want to extinguish any last drop of enjoyment that I might possibly derive from their shows:

Even Colbert is in on the heinous conspiracy
Even Colbert is in on the heinous conspiracy

But somehow this lame attempt at humour just makes it all the worse.

And no, it isn’t one of the “detriments of living under a monarchy”. It is one of the detriments of living in a modern digital age still governed by dinosaurs and fossils from a previous era who seriously think that today’s web-savvy, enlightened global consumer will put up with their bullshit and tolerate a smug, scornful, condescendingly second-class service.

And the fact that many such content providers, such as Comedy Central above, offer to redirect you to “your local country website” – which is, without exception, massively inferior to the US version in every way, from design to content – merely rubs additional salt into the wound.

THIS IS WHY INTERNET PIRACY HAPPENS. THIS. RIGHT HERE.

Do the suits seriously think that I am going to shrug my shoulders and hop on a plane to the US of A so that I can watch their two-minute-long, mildly entertaining video clip, or else sorrowfully abstain from ever viewing it?

No. In my rage, I will turn to Google and hammer out a stream-of-consciousness search request into my long-suffering keyboard, and fifty websites of dubious legality will instantly offer to show me the same goddamn video clip, without asking me to move continents, kill my firstborn son or jump through a fiery hoop.

The bottom line is that I get to watch the thing that I wanted to see. Semi-Partisan Sam wins. Always. In fact, the only people who lose out are the blood-sucking corporations who tried to throw pathetic, unenforceable legal obstacles in my path, and – sadly – the content creators, who would have materially benefited had I been able to watch on the official site, maybe sit through a couple more ads, and even make a purchase from the online store once in a blue moon.

But I don’t expect much from the likes of ViaCom-NBC-Universal-CBS-Fox-MediaTron-Gargamel-Corp.

It would be nice, however, if the news and entertainment websites that I frequent – respectable websites and publications that should know that much of their readership originates from outside the continental USA and does not appreciate being titillated with the promise of content that they cannot watch – smartened their act up and linked to sources that do not enforce petty, control-freakish regional access restrictions (or at least pressured content providers to stop their errant ways for the good of humanity).

Henceforth, I will be naming and shaming any site that falls short of this entirely reasonable standard of behaviour on this blog.

Fair warning.