It’s Upfronts season. Which also means, now, that it’s NewFronts season. And, wow, there is a lot of content out there.
Let’s look at it quickly. First of all, we can’t ignore the fact that the big broadcasters and the numerous cable networks -- and the paid cable channels like HBO, Showtime, and Cinemax -- are producing original content at record clips. And consumers have started to invest their attention in originals from Netflix, YouTube and Hulu. Even more recently, Amazon announced it is going to be doing more of its own original programming. And just in the past couple of weeks, largely in the context of splashy NewFronts announcements, we have learned that Xbox and Yahoo are jumping into the originals game, and let’s not forget high-quality digital-first players like Vice are making more long-form programming.
Original, serialized, high-quality, narrative-story-driven video content -- aka “TV” -- is very hard to do well. And in most cases, it’s very expensive to do (either well or not-so-well). And we have more of it than any human could ever watch. There’s so much content that the New York Post thinks we need a new way to navigate it. There are still 24 hours in a day, and most people sleep for some of them. So what gives?
We talk a lot about fragmentation of content consumption, but what we aren’t talking about as much is the fragmentation of the money. Content is being subsidized by subscription rates, overly complicated windowing that results in many consumers paying twice for the same content (ever forgotten to DVR an episode of a Showtime show, and then bought it on iTunes instead?), advertising (mostly on TV, because online high-quality content can’t survive on advertising alone) and the cash stores of new entrants, all at the same time. This means that investment in content is coming from all over the place, and that’s potentially troubling for those of us in the ad business because it raises the question of who’s actually seeing any ads.
Is this too much of a good thing? More content is a great thing -- isn’t it? There is an argument that we might be trading the idea of a collective entertainment experience for more choice in the content. Chris Anderson’s “The Long Tail” famously predicted a decline in big-budget, broad-appeal, mainstream content, but we still love the “Frozens” and “Iron Mans” of the world, and even a complicated pay-cable offering like “Game Of Thrones” isn’t particularly niche. I’d argue that people want cultural touchstones, something they can be a part of and know that tons of people they know are a part of, too.
But with what we consider “TV” (and, yes, I’d consider the new offerings from Yahoo and Xbox to be “TV”) getting more and more fragmented and unable to be found all in one place, or with people starting them at different times, we might be unable to experience those cultural touchstones even if we want to. As someone in the advertising industry, I’ll also note that advertising is at its most effective when it’s something we can talk about with other people. That’s why Super Bowl ads are so great -- they have a water-cooler effect that other ads don’t. So advertisers should care about this in addition to getting people invested in TV content.
I haven’t yet made up my mind whether this glut of content constitutes a “bubble,” or whether it’s ultimately a good or bad thing.
But I’m curious what you think.