Why on-demand video will lead to a renaissance in storytelling


Here’s an interview with the man behind Battlestar Galactica, in which he agrees with his interlocutor that making a “highly serialized” show like BSG, in which it’s easy to lose viewers who miss only an episode or two, and hard to gain new ones because the enormous back-story is daunting to viewers new to the series, is a problem TV can’t solve: it makes for better storytelling, but worse ratings.

But of course Netflix has already solved this problem. And the internet can really solve it: whatever you want, whenever you want it, on whatever device you like, means you can jump into any series at any time in your life. Shows like BSG won’t be judged on their ratings when the show first hits the ‘net — instead, in a trend reminiscent of the behavior patterns you see with downloadable media, peak viewership will be spread across a long period of time, with spikes corresponding with coverage of the series.

Shows will become properties that are continually generating income, spanning years. This happens now, but it’s contingent on releases of DVDs — and not everyone wants a boxed set.

This means that the penalty for creating “highly serialized” narratives will be reduced. Indeed, the whole equation might be flipped on its head — individual hit shows in properties that aren’t serialized will be nice, but for a network to have a steady stream of income, they’re going to need more serialized shows, not fewer.

3 thoughts on “Why on-demand video will lead to a renaissance in storytelling

  1. Sadly, I think that before the internet makes eveything better ™, things as they are now will get worse. When the full spectrum of a show’s life is finally seen as commercially viable, I fully expect to see embedded commercials in DVDs before I see widespread on-demand internet access. (Though let us hope that producers take a page from what’s happening at southparkstudios.com) The residual profits for TV studios taken from people renting from Netflix single discs from boxed sets is probably pretty close to zero, if that.

  2. Embedded commercials in DVDs… [shudder]. Already producers are moving toward more product placements and shows wholly sponsored by a particular advertiser.

    However, I disagree, if only because video-on-demand is already here. I can watch Family Guy on Hulu, or old Star Trek episodes on Veoh. Full length movies aren’t far behind — hell, Netflix is already offering them on-demand.

    My point being, that’s simply where ads and ad dollars will move. Commercials embedded in on-demand video. And in a world of infinite choices, networks can try to cram hit episodes with the higher-priced advertising, or they can try to smooth our the peaks and troughs in their traffic by commissioning things that are going to hold the audience’s attention a little longer.

    Not to mention that it’s clear that many of the viewers advertisers would most want to reach — the smart, technically savvy ones — already love serialized content. The fact that it’s not in a convenient format already is the only reason we’re all getting it off Netflix or Bittorrent. Make it free, make it available right now — sure, I’ll sit through some ads.

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