Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The Revolution Will Be Subsidised

In this provocative and intruiging essay, Adam Stenburgh begins with three premises:
(1) Last month, Apple unveiled yet another new iPod, this one capable of playing video. At the time, it seemed underwhelming—little more than another Bravo, Steve Jobs! moment and a chance to watch U2 videos on a screen three inches high. As an ancillary benefit, however, Apple started selling commercial-free episodes of Lost and Desperate Housewives on its iTunes Website, along with select music videos, for $1.99 each. Three weeks later, iTunes had sold its 1 millionth such video.

(2) This summer, Universal did something kind of weird: It released Serenity, a sci-fi movie based on a poorly rated TV show, Firefly, that had been canceled after eleven episodes. Making movies of hit TV shows has a self-explanatory logic, but there aren’t too many movies based on TV flops. But I saw Serenity and liked it a lot, so I went out and bought the entire run of the Firefly TV series on DVD, watched it, and liked it a lot as well.

(3) Last week, Fox announced that, owing to scheduling conflicts, it planned to put its new series Prison Break... on hiatus until late May.... One fan-generated suggestion to Fox was, why not move the show to a less-competitive time slot, such as Friday, where die-hard fans can still find it? I’ve been recording the show on my DVR (TiVoing it, you might say, except the folks at TiVo don’t like you to use that word unless you own, you know, a TiVo) and enjoying each episode at my leisure. So naturally, my first reaction to this debate was, Wait a minute. Prison Break airs on Monday nights?!
He develops this into an interesting theory of what television production might become. It involves Joss Whedon and Firefly, but that's just a bonus.

There was a story today (sorry, can't find the link) that the new head of the FCC has changed direction and ruled that so-called a la carte cable programming packages are the way to go. That means subscribers will be allowed to choose only the channels they want for their television. For some families, it means never even having objectionable programming enter their homes. For the art-crowd or the science or history geeks, it means only buying the movie channels, or only paying for Discovery or the History Channels. It also means news-junkie channel packages.

The Brave New World of television is coming soon, within a few more years. The only downside will be finding the great shows, since there will be fewer than ever broad demographic sources of culture. Word of mouth will become the driving force, not a PR campaign.

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