How will the web affect TV shows?

by on April 17, 2006 at 7:24 am in Television | Permalink

Shortly you will be able to see Lost episodes for free on the web, albeit with commercials (btw, my theory is that they have entered a parallel universe and are being tested by a non-omnipotent God).  I’ve bought Battlestar Galactica episodes through iTunes. 

But how will this affect the content of TV programs?  I see a few possibilities:

1. Individual episodes are more complex and less likely to be self-contained.  To watch only one show of Lost or BSG leaves you baffled.  But who can make sure he catches every episode?  What if you want to leave the country for a while?  Now if you have missed a show, you can use the Web to keep in touch with the longer and more integrated story.  You will do this even if you, like I, find web viewing distasteful and inconvenient.  Not everyone can afford TiVo, and some of us still need Yana to operate the remote and indeed the service itself.

This mechanism will raise the intellectual quality of TV.

2. Perhaps the time lengths of programs will vary more.  Has The Sopranos gone on a nearly two-year hiatus?  How about a fifteen-minute web shortie to keep us interested?

3. (Some) webcasts will be reproducible on iPods.  You will show the highlights of episodes to your friends.  Perhaps many producers will make episodes to stress "the best two minute stretch or skit" rather than the show as a whole.  Just as the song is outliving the album, perhaps the skit will outlive the show.

4. Might it, as Mark Cuban suggests, support soap operas in real time?  What better to watch on your work computer, during work hours?  In the longer run, the more entertaining your computer becomes, the more people will be paid by commission; blame blogs for that too.

5. TV on the web, in essence, shortens the release window for ancillary products.  How big a deal is the DVD in six months’ time if a web version exists now?  And what does shortening the release window do?  It will be harder to figure out what is a hit.  It will lower movie budgets.  It will increase the relative advantage that low-cost drama has over special effects spectaculars.  Surely you can think of more effects on this count.

Comments are open…

1 Craig April 17, 2006 at 7:44 am

The Sopranos season has started.

2 Marc April 17, 2006 at 8:21 am

You might be interested in a concept like (though unfortunately for most of your readers it’s in Dutch). “Uitzending gemist” literally means “missed the airing”: it’s a portal for all The Netherlands’ public television programmes. (Public television here is slightly different from PBS in the US.) The website allows you to watch any show streaming from the web, whether is was aired half an hour or half a year ago (extensive archive).

Personally I use it a lot, it’s very convenient to be able to watch a show whenever you like. Quality is very good (500 Kbps RealPlayer or Windows Media), especially with my television connected to the video-out of my computer.

3 FXKLM April 17, 2006 at 9:33 am

I definitely believe web television will improve the quality of television,but I think the elimination of scheduling concerns is a more important reason. Today, when executives choose shows, they try to put together the best possible schedule rather than picking the best individual shows. They will often choose a worse show over a better one because it fits better into a particular time slot. Also, networks are hesitant to air shows that don’t fit into the traditional 20-24 episodes per season aired over a roughly 9-month period. With web television, networks could more easily air a shorter batch of episodes in a tighter time frame, and they could experiment with a few episodes of a show without devoting a time slot to it.

4 John Thacker April 17, 2006 at 10:30 am

Individual episodes are more complex and less likely to be self-contained. … Now if you have missed a show, you can use the Web to keep in touch with the longer and more integrated story. You will do this even if you, like I, find web viewing distasteful and inconvenient.

This is not just because of Web viewing, but also because of the TV-on-DVD phenomenon. Consider 24 and Arrested Development as well. TV-on-DVD has provided the revenue that makes TV executives willing to finance shows which may have lower ratings but make up for it on DVD sales, and continuity is part of that. Of course, the Web means that people don’t have to wait until a few months for the DVDs. (One can also make a comparison to Japanese animation, which has long had lots of very late night programs with low ratings that exist because of their devoted fanbases which buy assorted show goods and the DVD releases. Japanese programs are known for their continuity.)

Distasteful, I imagine, because many of us have larger TVs than computer monitors. (And, with the advance of HDTV, computer monitors are losing their resolution advantage– though higher resolution on computer monitors generally means more artifacts.) Visual quality is also generally not as good on downloaded shows, though certainly it’s improved greatly in the last few years, partly at a cost of size. Distasteful also because most of the time the furniture setup is such that it’s less relaxing to watch on a computer monitor, and especially harder to watch together with friends.

Also, it is usually more inconvient and requires more specialized knowledge to download shows currently than to watch TV. Downloading is not just like turning to a specific channel at the right time, which people have a lifetime of doing. It requires learning new skills.

5 ddang April 17, 2006 at 5:03 pm

I can relate to this blog, as I too watch tv episodes online. You, as well as others, may be familiar with youtube, as I catch comedy skits from SNL, comedy central presents, chappelle show, etc. on this very popular website.. Although I only catch skits/parts of the episode it still beats having to buy a tivo. The only downside is the upload time in viewing these skits, my patience grows thin and can only view a few skits a day. I suppose you can relate my situation on a graph with an indifference curve. Anyways, how will this affect tv content? Probably not by much. Many of us today are already on a time constraint and if anything web broadcasting would be a great idea! As I’ll be able to catch any and all episodes I missed. Soon enough we’ll be able to catch shows on celluar devices, with would be convenient for those of us who are always on the go. Of course I’m sure all of this convenience will all come at a price for its services.

6 DanMar April 17, 2006 at 6:21 pm

[“Shortly you will be able to see Lost episodes for free on the web, albeit with commercials…”]

..Hmmm — so a TV show that’s totally free from standard TV-broadcast technology … will still be totally free when accessed from the internet ???

What’s the breakthrough ?

7 TheCous April 18, 2006 at 1:33 am

I think that with the DVD market, we’ve already seen the production quality and amount of continuity between episodes greatly increase (24, Arrested Development, Lost, BSG, etc). I never used to be much of a TV watcher, and now follow a handful of shows, all through the internet and DVDs. I think that increasing availability of TV on the web will definitely improve the quality of shows (particularly niche ones which had previously had difficulty finding an audience), provided that the producers are able to profit from it. Since many shows are available for free (albeit usually at a low quality, but that will most likely continue to improve), I think that networks will probably have to make their shows available online (either for sale or with commercials) at a much higher quality and easier to find and download in order to compete (I know that iTunes has several popular shows, but the quality could stand to be improved upon). I also wouldn’t be surprised to see a few lawsuits against those who are currently making the shows available. It should be interesting to see how the industry continues to respond to the trend, hopefully they’ll see it as an opportunity more than a threat.

8 John Thacker April 18, 2006 at 12:19 pm

Better or not is somewhat harder to judge. I think that there’s a trend towards more niche shows and more continuity. Of course, since an individual person doesn’t belong in every niche, that means that while there are more gems for you to find, there’s also more shows you don’t like at all that you have to sift through in order to find those gems.

Lawyer, Doctor, Cop, and Reality shows predominate, all just dumbed down cookie cutter copies of each other. The sitcom has almost vanished.

Yes they do predominate on the big networks, but weren’t the old sitcoms largely cookie cutter copies of each other? That’s what you get when you aim for the broadest possible market, yes?

9 Noah Yetter April 18, 2006 at 5:54 pm

More “marginal” (english as well as economic definition) shows will be produced, or continued. The HBO show “The Mind of the Married Man” as well as the MTV cartoon “Clone High” were fantastic, but they didn’t get the necessary viewership to justify the time slot. On the web, there are no time slots. I shouldn’t have to choose between “Desperate Housewives” and “Law & Order: Criminal Intent”. Being able to view these shows on the web (or via TiVo etc.) makes the cancellation of “…Criminal Intent” that much less likely.

10 linda October 9, 2006 at 6:58 am
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