Which is neither broadcast or a movie. It's streaming video, like Threeway Lesbian Orgy (NSFW) and Litter Training Your Ferret. Mind you, "House of Cards" is significantly more interesting than the others (at least until the next vice president of the United States shoves a reporter in front of a moving train}, but can we agree that from the ruins of the media economy a future is beginning to take shape?
In the form of the revitalized ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox? Nah. They are glorified cable channels, whose radio waves touch barely an antenna -- except possibly for Aereo's -- and whose shrinking ad-rate base is forcing dependence on retransmission fees from Big Cable. But that’s hardly a safe harbor; cable programming itself hasn't much of a life expectancy. Fed up with being gouged, consumers are canceling their TV packages and rerouting their favorite shows individually via broadband. Hulu. Crackle. Netflix. Amazon. FunnyorDie. DailyMotion. YouTube.
Like islands in the stream.
Broadcast and cable both have crumbling foundations, straining under high costs, rapid audience erosion and ruinous ad avoidance. This while, in a matter of a year, the streaming economy has evolved to produce four discrete business models, each producing something otherwise almost unheard of on the internet: profit. Remember, for all its infinite wonderfulness, the Internet is financed mainly by venture capitalists, legacy media spending out of savings, amateurs, exploited millennials, exploited refugees from the good old days, fraudsters, pornographers and monks. Valuations are stratospheric, earnings elusive.
So a platform with four ways to turn a profit? Wow. There are insanely popular YouTubers, like Smosh, who have risen from obscurity to coalesce 17 million subscribers and a bundle of ad revenue producing funny little videos. There is comedian Louis C.K., entirely disintermediating the entire entertainment infrastructure by selling comedy concerts direct to consumer for $5 a pop. There is FunnyorDie, which adapted Arianna Huffington’s brainstorm to the comedy-video sector: getting famous talents to work for free by giving them a platform they value for reasons apart from money -- then selling advertising against the celeb-attracted eyeballs.
And then there is subscription: Netflix and Amazon Studios, soon to be joined by Sony Xbox and DirecTV, producing high-production-value original scripted programming. This used to be the exclusive province of broadcast. Now it is the stuff of broadband.
On a Tuesday evening in 1966, for scripted entertainment, the American public had the choice in the first hour of prime time of WWII action drama "Combat," "Rawhide" (Clint Eastwood!) and of course, the Jerry Van Dyke/Ann Sothern vehicle, "My Mother the Car." This was a sort of "Here Comes Mr. Jordan" meets Mr. Ed, minus the subtlety and any shred of redeeming comedic value. This sorry menu of options was the result of three network executives divining/dictating the tastes of 200 million Americans.
Through Big Data, the declining relevance of crude demographics and the rise of social media, programming development has been flipped entirely on its head. Over the next three weeks, in this space, we’ll look at how the herd has been turned into the heard, fundamentally altering both the business and style of television. Not to offer a spoiler, but what it comes down to is this: The great screenwriter William Goldman famously declared, about the wisdom of Hollywood decision-making, “Nobody knows anything.”
Well, that is now wildly, wonderfully, rewardingly untrue.