When the levee breaks on this golden age of TV, what does that look like?

The music industry parallel is a flawed one, anyway. Anyone with Pro tools and a hankering to make a record and some modicum of musical talent (or not!) can make a handful of songs and get them streaming on Spotify and Pandora for under a thousand dollars.

That thousand bucks will get you music clearances for half an episode of Walking Dead.

I think we’ve strayed from the original premise.

No one’s saying that we’re going to stop watching content. It’ll be there and it’ll be on stuff like Youtube.

My point is this: we’re probably going to say goodbye to the quality or at least quantity of quality content we’re enjoying now, and the freedom and ease of access to it we currently enjoy. Yes, you’ll still be able to sit and watch Minecraft vids and Ted Talks on Youtube. But if you are thinking that you’re OK if that replaces the current content and content model of delivery, you are a rather extreme special snowflake of a consumer.

I would argue that the golden age of TV ended when reality shows replaced scripted material.

I think your overstating the situation, Trig. The delivery pipeline exists, they just have to fine tune how to properly monetize it. There will without a doubt be growing pains but in the end, they will figure it out. People sang the same tune when VCRs came out and then again when DVRs became popular.
My concern is more for the internet and how it will change as it entrenches itself as the primary entertainment pipeline into the consumers home. These recent net neutrality battles are only the beginning. The internet represents a massive pipeline of money and power and people are going to do their damnedest to gain control of the 'net.

Yeah I’d say the quality has been going down for awhile. The days of throwing half-ass scripted shows because you got to watch something anyway has been replace with half-ass “reality” shows. And I think as that happened, people became more wiling to drop cable. I know I sure as hell wasn’t going to pay 120 dollars for HBO, to get one channel I wanted and a bunch of other channels stuffed to the brim of reality garbage I don’t like. I know correlation is not causality, but I think remember the day I canceled Cable TV and didn’t look back, and flipping through a bunch of reality crap and looking at my cable bill… those two are not unrelated for me.

I’m disappointed that nobody has brought up JP Sousa’s Congressional testimony w/r/t player pianos and the creative apocalypse they were sure to usher in.

My point is this: we’re probably going to say goodbye to the quality or at least quantity of quality content we’re enjoying now, and the freedom and ease of access to it we currently enjoy. Yes, you’ll still be able to sit and watch Minecraft vids and Ted Talks on Youtube. But if you are thinking that you’re OK if that replaces the current content and content model of delivery, you are a rather extreme special snowflake of a consumer.

I just don’t see how this follows from the premises. The vast, vast majority of quality TV I watch is already funded by subscription-only* distribution means or equivalents like the BBC licence fee. The only big exception I can think of is AMC’s output, and for the UK, Netflix is funding/distributing that too. Are they just going to stop doing that? If so, why?

  • I guess you could quibble around HBO, which obviously receives payments from cable providers, but a) they’re moving away from that to a pure subscription model, and b) they don’t have ads.

No idea how it works in the UK. Don’t care really. But I gather that it contributes to the misinformation you’re laboring under.

Subscription TV in the US is in trouble because basic and expanded basic cable TV packages are hemorrhaging subscribers and not replacing lost accounts. (Fortune, August 2015, Business Insider August 18, 2015)

“The Scariest Chart in the history of Cable TV”

Let me try to illustrate this for you in market terms.

Right now, as a US subscriber, I can pay $7.99 per month for Netflix and an additional 4.99 per month for Unblock-US. For that $13 per month I spend, I get access to more content of higher quality running on a secondary platform (Netflix) than I would have if I had a digital television package and two or three pay cable movie channels like HBO and Showtime (the only thing missing here is live sports and news, for the most part.)

The content I get for that $13/monthly is equivalent to the content that many homes in the US in the past and currently pay an average of $87 or more monthly to get (Bloomberg, October 2015). And that, in a nutshell, is the market inefficiency that currently exists that makes this a wonderful, glorious time to be a television consumer. The trend that you’re not seeing (and I’m not sure how you’re missing it, but I assume it’s unfamiliarity with how American cable TV subscriptions are fueled and set by the monies that providers like Comcast or DirecTV pay to channels like AMC or ESPN or CNN) is that in a marketplace such inefficiencies eventually tend to correct themselves. You may rest assured that AMC, FOX, NBCU and Disney are well aware that they’re essentially giving away content for pennies on the dollar of what even their harshest models say that content should be valued at. That means they’re either:

  1. Going to lever a way to stop giving away that content so cheaply and find new ways to monetized consumer views of it, or,
  2. They’re going to stop making such lucrative and expensive content and scale the quality of the content down to the value consumers pay for it.

Either way is a net loss for us consumers compared to how sweet things are now. The only question to me is when this happens and how rapidly the changes occur and whether they’ll stop at making things fair or swing it back in a damaging direction towards the supply side.

I’m well aware of the situation with cable subscribers in the US. What I’m arguing, or at least seeking a counterargument for, is that it doesn’t particularly matter for the quality shows I’m interested in. As I keep saying, the shows I’m interested in are overwhelmingly produced by content providers for which audiences specifically pay subscription fees, either because they want to (eg Netflix, HBO) or because they have to (BBC). I don’t particularly care (from a selfish perspective) what happens to Fox, NBC or Disney TV content because I don’t like it (possible exception - FX, but I can’t legally watch that first run anyway). I’m not denying it’s quite likely those standalone subscriptions will go up in cost. What I’m asking is why you think, eg, Netflix will stop funding quality drama and comedy.

Let me try this the way Jules might explain it to Vincent Vega.

You see, there’s this thing called “Television”, and they show programs on it that people like. They like different things, of course, so the things you don’t like may not be a barometer of popularity or even worthwhile-ness across a wider market demographic.

I’m happy for you that this won’t affect you. If only you represented even a reasonable-sized sample of the market in the US.

At any rate, here’s how it affects Netflix (and I’ve typed this before, but I’ll try again. Maybe this time it takes!) As content providers have their current contracts run out with Netflix, they either can choose to charge Netflix a highly ballooned rate for that content based on revenues lost from consumers who don’t watch the shows on linear TV anymore…or they can yank the content altogether.

In the first scenario, Netflix pays an exponentially inflated price to continue showing the content it has in the past. They’re not going to just eat that greatly inflated cost. Solution: Netflix does a rate hike. They’ve been amazingly about gradual rate hikes, mostly thanks to cash flow generated by new subscriber revenues. At some point, logic suggests that the limitations of broadband internet will peak the those new subscribers, though, and that, combined with increased content costs suggests that the price for Netflix will be going up and up.

In the second scenario, content providers like AMC, FX, NBCU (which is TNT), and Viacom yank their programming at the expiry of content contracts. Now Netflix can hold the line on pricing, but they’re offering a less appealing product and as consumers we have to subscribe to more and more subscription or paywall services to get access to the content we’re getting now.

I suspect that the real result will be a bit of both. Content prices will continue to rise and Netflix will eventually have to raise rates significantly while the content it offers continues to reduce.

OK… but in this nightmare scenario, I still get to watch new shows of the quality of House of Cards, Game of Thrones, Veep, Arrested Development, Bojack Horseman, Black Mirror, Screenwipe, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Orphan Black, Wet Hot American Summer, W/ Bob and David, Transparent, and David Attenborough documentaries? For maybe double my current Netflix subscription? Deal!

I suspect that the real result will be a bit of both. Content prices will continue to rise and Netflix will eventually have to raise rates significantly while the content it offers continues to reduce.

I mean, sure? But that’s not exactly an apocalyptic scenario, which the tone of your posts has been implying. I guess I can’t tell whether the apocalypse is supposed to be for the content producers because consumers will refuse to pay the old price (like the music industry), or for consumers because content providers will jack up the price. In the worst case that you’ve outline, consumers end up paying basically the same as what they paid before Netflix et al arrived, but with a vastly more convenient service. That doesn’t seem terrible, even if it does mean Netflix won’t be such a ridiculously good deal as it is now.

Sorry to bring this back because I know that it’s not a great analogy, but I think it bears nicely onto what Trigger and Ginger are going back-and-forth about.

Sure, the digital revolution shook up the music industry and yeah, internal to the industry there was a lot of swirl, just as cord-cutting and the (presumed) death of bundles will cause massive changes. My (poorly articulated) point was that to the consumer, the music industry has weathered the changes just fine: there’s plenty of new music coming out and if anything it is a LOT easier to find new bands and new sounds than it was back in the “old regime”.

That might not actually be true behind the scenes - perhaps there are fewer bands, and perhaps the genres are collapsing in on themselves, and perhaps there are fewer “arena bands” touring at this time than there were in the 80s - but the typical consumer seems to believe that the quality and quantity of available music has increased if anything.

And I think that’s kind of GingerYellow’s point: the current edifice may collapse in a spectacular fashion that decimates an entire sector of the entertainment industry. But if what emerges from the rubble is easier and more-specific access to the programs that most people like, then it’s entirely possible that we (the consumers) won’t notice that there is less of it

To be sure, that doesn’t invalidate Triggercut’s main point which (I think) is: It may very well be your favorite show who’ll be the first against the wall when the revolution comes.

That’s a pretty accurate summary of how my sons have treated TV. Almost zero scripted TV show watching in real time (with the notable exception of Game of Thrones), with a bit of sports viewing, plenty of streaming with no real preference for high-profile network properties. They treat Netflix and Hulu like a jukebox for Family Guy and American Dad reruns, binge-watch a handful of random shows like Supernatural, Grimm, or Parks & Recreation, and are just as likely to stream some goofball on YouTube as anything else.

A wave of change is coming for the bundled cable TV model. And I don’t really have strong feelings about that since I only watch a handful of “linear” channels myself. All of the TV news channels stink, ESPN is damn near unwatchable when it’s not showing an actual sporting event, and even channels that I would have a natural interest in like The History Channel show cheap, shallow bandwidth-filler while waiting for the next commercial break. A culling actually seems like a good idea at this point.

Good post. As an aside, several studies were done on the pre- vs. post- MP3 age for musicians. There were significant drops in employment in performing arts companies (orchestras and what not) as well as religious institutions (cantors, etc.). However, “band members” like we normally think of actually increased although their method of being employed drastically changed as they’ve shifted to more independent over labels.

That first paragraph pretty much describes my 20 something daughters viewing habits and the second paragraph pretty much covers mine.

If TV becomes more expensive or if we will see fewer high quality shows being made, I’ll watch even less TV than I do now. I’m part of that market segment that just doesn’t care very much. The teenager in the household watches a few scripted shows, but reality TV is the biggest draw in our household. The two females in the house like to watch cooking shows and house-hunting shows.

I know this has been covered already in this thread, but I can’t shake the feeling of deja vu in this conversation. Haven’t we already had this one about newpapers and magazines and CDs? Technology is destroying the revenue model behind everything in a way that is beneficial to consumers in the long run. Media creators can adapt or die, but the end reality is that people are willing to pay for good media so the market will always exist.

I freely admit I cannot predict with any certainty the details of how this will evolve but I have no concerns at all that there be any noticeable decrease in the amount of quality content available in the next 10 to 20 years.

People keep making that comparison, and all I can say is that it seems to be one that is fundamentally flawed at the most basic level. An aggregate of tuned-in blogs and news aggregators with a few boots on the ground can replace physical newspapers with a digital equivalent that has lower overhead and doesn’t need nearly the ad content to support it that a paper newspaper has to have. Ditto for magazines.

Music creators can do that for a fraction of a fraction of the cost that used to be incurred. Digital recording makes it possible for anyone with some ambition to record an album-length thing and get it on Itunes or Soundcloud for what it used to cost to have a drum tech set up the cymbals back in the days when big analog studios were the thing.

The difference here is the cost of content creation. With newspapers and with music, the cost to create content dropped dramatically and removal of that barrier to entry is what drove the revolution in those areas.

With video content, it’s different. Costs aren’t going down, they’re going up. And the anecdotal evidence in this thread runs counter to what the Big Three alternative content platforms have learned: big original content drives subscription numbers up: Man In the High Castle, Orange Is The New Black, House Of Cards, Marvel Universe stuff, Transparent, etc. People aren’t looking for cheap content. Right now they’re looking for high quality, expensive stuff.

And so yes, people watching filmed content isn’t going anywhere. The end of the golden age however I think is going to be when content creators and providers realize they have to scale down the quality to match more accurately what the market will pay.

Maybe it works out fine. I’m struggling (obviously!) to see how within my current frame of reference.

I think the problem is that their most valuable asset hasn’t held its value compared to the competition. Independent companies like AMC have long been producing popular TV shows, and now Netflix and Amazon have shown themselves capable of doing the same.

In fact, of those seven companies only FOX has a big presence on various year-end Top 10 lists (sorry, P&R fans). Time Warner has Game of Thrones and not much else. So they have reason to worry, but not the reason you seem to think.

“Noticeable” is a matter of taste–no one, not even TV critics, can keep up with the sheer volume of great TV–but there absolutely will be a decrease in the amount of good TV produced. We’re in a bubble of overinvestment right now.

Relevant article: http://variety.com/2015/tv/news/tca-fx-networks-john-landgraf-wall-street-1201559191/

Some excerpts:
““There is simply too much television,” Landgraf said flatly during his presentation Friday at FX’s portion of the summer Television Critics Assn. press tour. Citing FX research, he predicted that the number of original scripted series on the air this year “will easily blow through the 400 series mark” and probably rise in 2016 before an inevitable winnowing begins. The process will undoubtedly be Darwinian and weighted toward the largest companies with the top shows and the financial wherewithal to weather the storm and inevitable failure.”

“The biz “is in the late stages of a bubble. We’re seeing a desperate scrum — everyone is trying to jockey for position,” Landgraf. “We’re playing a game of musical chairs, and they’re starting to take away chairs.””

“By FX’s math, there were about 280 scripted series on the air in the U.S. five years ago. In 2014, it was about 371. And this boom has come at a time when Netflix, Amazon, Hulu et al. are also providing instant access to an array of older series. “You take a fixed audience and divide it by 400 shows (and library product), and most shows are going to see ratings go down,” he said.”