Every summer, the Edinburgh TV festival calls for a prestigious MacTaggart lecture with an industry luminary offering an evaluation of the TV/media landscape from his or her vantage point. The words are often freighted with provocative commentary and pointed advice. In 2011, Google’s Eric Schmidt was a non-traditional choice to deliver the quasi-keynote. Last year, Elisabeth Murdoch took the stage.
This time, the organizers had a speaker in Kevin Spacey who’s broken some recent ground with a best actor Emmy nomination for a Netflix series, “House of Cards.” Suffice it to say, the lengthy lecture delivered last week was far longer than anything he may say if he wins a statue next month.
Here are some highlights falling under an overarching theme of “It’s the creatives, stupid”:
--“This business lives on creative pathfinders … I think there are some wonderful new storytellers coming up now. They are going to be our future. Please you chaps in the money department, remember what they are. I think the time has come where the money people can afford to lose a little by taking risks with these new filmmakers.”
--“The obligation of a pilot – from the writing perspective – is that you have to spend 45 minutes establishing all the characters, create arbitrary cliff-hangers and generally prove that what you are setting out to do will work. Netflix was the only network that said, ‘We believe in you. We’ve run our data and it tells us that our audiences would watch this series. We don’t need you to do a pilot. How many episodes do you want to do?’ And we said … ‘Two seasons?’”
--“Clearly, the success of the Netflix model – releasing the entire season of ‘House of Cards’ at once -- has proved one thing: the audience wants the control. They
want freedom. If they want to binge … then we should let them binge … t
Through this new form of distribution, I think we have demonstrated that we have learned the lesson that the music industry didn’t learn: Give people what they want; when they want it; in the form they want it in; at a reasonable price – and they’ll more likely pay for it rather than steal it. Well, some will steal it, but I believe this new model can take a bite out of piracy.”
--“(Programmers) want the highest possible audiences with the greatest impact. We all get it. The challenge is can we create an environment where executives, those who live in data and numbers, are emboldened and empowered to support our mission: to have an environment with leadership that is willing to take risks, experiment, be prepared to fail by aiming higher rather than playing it safe.”
--“What ‘Breaking Bad’s’ rather late-in-life explosion in audience teaches us is that these shows need to be treated as assets to be nurtured, protected from the quick network trigger that can bail on a show before it has the chance to find its feet … it requires guts to stick with a show when the numbers don’t come, courage not to buckle under the pressure from the executive floor.”
--It’s “really only in the past decade or so that television has finally been seen as a legitimate art form. Mostly because these pioneers in cable took chances and those stories found audiences thirsting for more sophisticated narratives and characters than the movie theaters were offering them.”
-- “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. And, if they fail to hear these warnings, audiences will evolve faster than they will … Netflix and other similar services have succeeded because they have married good content with a forward-thinking approach to viewing habits and appetites.”
--“One way that our industry might fail to adapt to the continually shifting sands is to keep a dogmatic differentiation in their minds between various media – separating film and TV and mini-series and Webisodes and however else you might want to label narrative formats … I predict than in the next decade or two, any differentiation between these formats – these platforms – will fall away.”