As an organizing idea, it seems pretty lame to say that someday whatever someone wants to watch will just be there to watch. It sounds so…whatever.
But it’s also true.
Another one of those incremental steps in that direction is coming from PBS. I would like to say, “PBS, of all places,” but I happen to think public television and public radio are sitting in pretty good positions in the new constellation of media, where fractional-fractional audiences can still prosper.
PBS announced at the TV critics press tour the other day that it will put the whole load of its next Ken Burns documentary series, “The Roosevelts” online, for free, after the first two-hour airs on Sept 14. That’s 14 hours of programming that, like “House of Cards,” a viewer could binge-watch before the general public sees it, one week at a time.
That would test the popularity of binge-watching pretty severely, I’d say (as a former TV critic I can tell you, marathon-viewing gets old), but it’s a winning proposition for PBS, and I’d say it’s the shape of things to come. I wish it would come soon, too.
As PBS President Paula Kerger explained it to critics, letting a documentary series run online ahead of its on-air date is nearly hazard-free.
Because ['The Roosevelts'] is such a big and important series … we’ve found that by offering it up in multiple places, people could catch up and come in and out of the broadcast so that the broadcast audience, rather than being impacted negatively, is impacted positively because the people who miss an episode or two can catch up and come back into the series,” she said, as quoted in Variety.
(The surprise ending of the Roosevelt era actually came with the Truman administration, over the skies of Japan. I hope I didn’t need a spoiler alert there.)
The fall television season would seem to be a perfect time for networks to explore a similar concept via Hulu Plus or elsewhere, that would let viewers see a good sampling of a new series before it actually airs. It’s baffling to me how little television powers—both broadcast and cable, and the studios who create programs—have messed with the interactive and audience-mapping possibilities of online video.
Most data says viewers who play catch-up to series usually become day-and-date (or near to it) viewers .
Giving viewers a head start might be useful and works well with the whole stupid scheme of prime time television, which needs to establish characters and premises in the first few episodes before a series actually stands on its legs.
And particularly in light of a new NPD survey that says that by 2017, the number of streaming devices in the U.S. will reach 204 million, a 100% increase driven by device marketers, and most importantly, consumer acceptance. Having PBS be somewhat of a traiIblazer in the search-for-audience hunt is surprising, but maybe not. It’s broadcast TV for smart people.