As it turns out, Gil Scott-Heron was on target when he wrote that the “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” The revolution I’m speaking of here, however, has to do with television itself: its business model, its format, and its future.
Over the past several years, Netflix, Amazon and other similar companies have been rapidly expanding their libraries of both television shows and movies, as many of us are aware. It has become a new norm for viewers to watch exactly what they want, when they want it, as opposed to the rigid programming and timing of traditional television broadcasting. Rather than patiently waiting each week to see a new episode of a favorite series, people are now able to watch at their own leisure, prompting some to “binge” on these shows, watching episode after episode in a row to their heart’s content. Consumers could not be happier, but some companies, primarily those tied to the more traditional television set, are not quite as satisfied. The reaction to this new media environment on the part of both the older and newer broadcasting companies is extremely interesting.
Though Netflix is widely considered to be the spark that ignited this revolution, they have wisely chosen not to resist changes to their own, thus far successful business model. They had been profiting entirely from content that was not their own for the first few years of their existence. This often created difficult situations when it came to negotiating the rights to the programming, a change noticed by many when their favorite shows and movies, such as “South Park” and Pulp Fiction, began disappearing and reappearing sporadically in the catalogs. Their parent companies, realizing the dependent nature of their relationship with Netflix, often opted to raise their rates and enforce these contract dates in order to stem the tide. What they did not seem to account for was the capital that Netflix was slowly amassing for the sake of their endgame: creating original programming designed to compete directly with cable TV.
In 2012, Netflix finally began to roll out their own content in the form of new original series. Thus far they have churned out “Lilyhammer,” a drama about a former mobster sent to Norway for witness protection, “Hemlock Grove,” a thriller about medical experiments in a sleepy Pennsylvania town, “House of Cards,” another drama about the behind the scenes action in Congress, and “Orange is the New Black,” a dramedy about a young woman sent to prison for a minor crime she committed several years earlier. So far, Netflix has seen great returns on their investments, earning several Emmy nominations and widespread critical acclaim, particularly with regard to “Cards” and “OITNB.”
Furthermore, Netflix tried yet another experiment related to new development in the form of a revival. Based on the outstanding numbers and repeat viewership of the cult comedy “Arrested Development,” the company decided to offer its former cast and crew the chance to return to their former roles and seemingly “avenge” their cancellation by Fox six years earlier. This move was particularly fascinating because of the idea of the young gun coming to the aid of a victim of broadcast television’s often ruthless business model. The experiment was considered by-and-large to be successful, satisfying fans and generating revenue and buzz for the company. “Arrested” lives to see another day, and Fox certainly missed out on an opportunity.
So, what happens next? As these stories demonstrate, it is incredibly difficult to predict what moves (and countermoves) Netflix and the cable companies will make in the coming months and years, though it is undeniable that the ball is in old TV’s court. If they are not quick to update their services, change their pricing and options and significantly overhaul their view of the marketplace, then we may be among the generations who will be able to say that they saw the demise of the once-great television set. Whatever happens, everything seems to be in our, the consumer’s, favor.