Complications Ensue:
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Saturday, July 15, 2006

This article in the New York Times talks about how the only people still going to record stores are old fogeys who can remember the Disco v. Punk Wars. Downloading has killed off the record store. It has also taken a big whack out of the music industry in general.

Bandwidth hasn't yet caught up with TV shows, and not that many people want to watch a BitTorrented show on their computer, anyway. Not yet. But in five years, as Tom Fontana said in my interview with him: "I think in the next five to ten years, television, as we know it, will have ceased to exist."

It's sort of depressing to think that, hard as it is to stay afloat in TV, not to mention to break in, and crowded as the ranks of screenwriters feel after the reality-show onslaught of the past decade, it could get worse.

People will always want to be told stories. The problem isn't lack of a market for stories. It's the risk that the audience will, by refusing to pay for what they think they can get for free, do itself out of its storytellers. And no one has come up with a solution for the music industry. The software suppliers tried to enforce encryption and copy-protection, and the hardware manufacturers nixed it.

At the same time, it's hard to argue that pop music isn't a vibrant art form. Oh, you may claim it is a little less rich than ten years ago, but people have been saying that in every decade, because no one plays the crap oldies, they only play the ones with staying power. On the other hand, as a musician, you're better off if your style happens to be something you can record in a garage rather than something that requires a Phil Spector Wall of Sound treatment. On the other other hand, with a Mac and a decent synthesizer these days, you could probably recreate anything Phil Spector did for the Beatles inside a month, if you knew what you were doing.

So expensive glamour shows may take a hit, while mockumentaries may rise.

And more screenwriters may be buying houses in Highland Park and fewer in Brentwood.

No one really knows.

How will we all make a living?

What do you think? Will the TV industry collapse in the next decade? Or will it just have to be nimble on its toes? Will there be carnage? Or evolution?


When it first came about, it was said that radio would kill the market for records on the phonograph. After all, who wants to pay for records to listen to when they can have them for free...?

They also said that television would kill the theater business...

The music industry is, on the whole, a bunch of luddites who have priced themselves out of a business. They saw downloading and instead of embracing the tech as a new way to build an audience that WANTS TO OWN THE MUSIC - they fought them... much to their detriment. Screw 'em. They've been screwing people for too long anyhow.

Now we get to TV and downloading:

Just because people will be downloading shows doesn't mean they won't somehow be paying for them - through advertising, through paypal and the like, or through subscription models (like PPV or HBO biz models).

And quite frankly, I hope it happens sooner rather then later, because the model we have for western television is broke. No, it ain't broke - it's f*ck*d. It spends too much money for too little return.

We also have companies like Lionsgate and Peace Arch that are getting into the TV game and making their money back BEFORE ONE FRAME OF FILM IS SHOT. They are revising how tv series are financed...

Which has been LONG overdue.

The doomsayers in this whole equation are those in network tv who can't do anything outside the system they've cocooned themselves with for the past 20 yrs.

By Blogger Cunningham, at 11:27 PM  

Radio, the phonograph, player pianos, tape recorders, VCRs...All of these things were supposed to be the death of some form of media, and yet we still have music and television. It's true that the music industry seems to have taken a hit, but the evidence that piracy is the primary reason (it's certainly a reason) for this is scant. There are lots of way for television to survive in the digital age. iTunes is already selling show, and ABC has recently experimented with broadcasting them online (with great success). It seems to me that the greater threat to television is the Tivo.

By Blogger Michael, at 11:41 PM  

Those investing in TV (and movie) production will just have to learn that they need to put money into really great productions, not just productions they think they can persuade people to watch once.

New distribution methods only mean it's easier to trick someone into watching your stuff one time. Whether they will tell their friends to see it, pay money to see it, is a whole different question.

By Blogger glassblowerscat, at 11:57 PM  

To answer your question, I do not think that television is simply going to fall off of the face of the Earth in the next ten years. This almost smacks of the sort of apocalyptic silliness that early television executives were saying about radio.

I think that there are strong parallels to the painful evolution that the television industry is going to endure between it's early history and radio. There were a number of bright people that were involved with radio who bailed for television only to face failure later. Early shows tended to be radio dramas with cameras pointed at them. Personally, I would be tempted to say that television as a medium did not begin to mature until the mid-1980's.

The rise of cable, the inevitable downward spiral of the big three (NBC, CBS, and ABC,) all of these things forced television to change on a fundamental level. The sense of immediacy (what people I know like to refer to colloquially as the 'ADD Effect') that television has now is indicative of the pressure being placed on it by the Internet.

The problem here is that Internet-based entertainment is NOT even remotely ready to start delivering the sort of content that consumers want. The quality is too low, and extant technology cannot support the sort of broadband distribution to billions of connections that television can.

The industry as a whole is going to experience a sea change in the next decade, but I would be suprised if it disappears.

What television must do now is figure out what position it is going to occupy in that market. The cable and broadcast networks have had the playing field to themselves for quite a while. If they do not figure it out, then the Internet will run them over. Unfortunately for the consumer, that may mean a system about as attractive as licking a wall socket: You can't see that site because you haven't paid for access to it yet.

I am not talking about limiting to content, this runs parallel to the current net neutrality argument that is going on elsewhere at the moment. Whatever popups, whatever advertising, whatever spam my ISP decides I need to see I get. Otherwise, no connection.

My question is, should I but a keyboard with a mute button? Is there some way to Tivo a website without the preloads and popups?

Now on to something else.

You made the comment that "At the same time, it's hard to argue that pop music isn't a vibrant art form."

Errr. American Idol? Idol castaways singing (in ridiculous style) Ford commercials? This is "vibrant?" This is an "art form?" Perhaps I am defining genre incorrectly, but pop is having a pretty hard time at the moment as anything other than manufactured celebrity mixed with a little good ol' fashioned z0MG INTAERWEB FIGHT. (I mean astroturfing to establish fanbases, starting artificial fights to generate PR, that sort of malarkey.)

If your intent was to imply that pop music is a "vibrant art form" from the cynical sense that it is nothing more than mass-marketed tripe for the 'emo' (I believe that is what the kids these days are calling themselves,) set, then I suppose you are correct.

Otherwise, I must need to get my head, ears, and psyche examined because you'd have a better chance getting me to punch myself than listen to Fallout Boy or Brittney Murphy.

By Blogger Drew C., at 7:16 AM  

Just because there's crap out there doesn't mean it's not a vibrant art form. There was a lot of crap being performed onstage in Shakespeare's day, too. There's always popular crap. But the confluence of world musical cultures that's happening these days is pretty vibrant. Personally I find Peter Gabriel, Paul Simon and Alanis Morrisette pretty vibrant. Or Youssou N'Dour. There's never been as many choices of what music to listen to.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 7:56 AM  

TiVo is not a threat to television.

It is a threat to FREE television.

The wave is already upon us: shows that serialize, to be sold in seasonal blocks, or even by episode for download. The shows will have a stream of revenue that carry them from season to season, only in this case, the cash comes not from advertisements on network television, but sales of the season's shows, either last season's or the current one. NBC is already piloting pay-per-view and pay-per-download programs in a few areas. The pay-per-view, I believe, has limited commercials, and the pay-per-download has none. NPR did a story on this a month or so ago.

Another important factoid: shows are now being marketed in entire series boxes. “Homicide: Life On the Street”, one of my favorite shows, is now coming out in an entire series package that will retail for around $300. Clearly, television executives have seen the direction the

More and more shows are following a "24"-style storyline -- not in terms of real-time action, but in necessary viewing. You HAVE to watch what happened in Episode 10 to understand Episode 11. We are witnessing the height of the One Hour Drama for television, I believe. These shows are keeping writers employed, and the best will get to work on the best shows -- witness Jane Espenson writing for "Battlestar Galactica" next season, a show I'm drooling over and eagerly anticipating.

I do expect there to be a thinning of the ranks, however.

There are serious challenges for writers and TV in general as we still know it. For example, sitcoms are at their bleakest and most shallow point since probably the late 60's. I mean, really, people. "Two and a Half Men" is the best the genre has? Puh-leeze. Anyone else yearn for the glory days of "Cheers"? (Then again, the 70's did bring some classic sitcoms, such as "Mary Tyler Moore" and a little later, "M*A*S*H", "All In The Family", and others, so perhaps there's one more resurgence in store for the format.) The sitcom format is excellent for employing writers, though. Half an hour, same number of writers (roughly) as the full-hour of shows. A night of sitcoms gives you maybe twice as many jobs as a night of dramatic television. Yeay! More job chances for me.

Have we reached the saturation point for reality TV? No. Sadly, it's still building. I know this, because I am someone who DETESTS reality TV, and even I will watch "Project Runway". It's manipulative TV, but it's gripping. Hopefully, though, a lot of the schlock will fade and go the way of "Who Wants To Date My Mom?" (Or whatever the heck that bomb was called).

Bottom line: Network TV is going to evolve, or devolve, into a further slide of what we see now. Warhol's prophecy is really coming true, as people that frankly have no business being on TV are getting their 15 nanoseconds of fame, be it from "Survivor", "Joe Millionaire", "The Amazing Race", et cetera. But writers will always be important, and will always be employed, to provide the people with stories they want to hear.

They just won't be writing for network television. They will be writing for NBCOnline,, or whatever independent producers pop up to generate shows and sell them to the distributor with the highest bandwidth at the lowest cost.

"Blade Runner", anyone?

By Blogger Professor P, at 10:10 AM  

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