The Ongoing Revolution of Television

Veronica Mendez


As Robin Wright accepted her Golden Globe for best actress in a TV drama, she made sure to thank Netflix for casting her as Claire in the original series House of Cards. Best actress in a TV drama was just one out of the six categories that Netflix was nominated for this award season. Another was a nomination for outstanding directing for David Fincher’s work in House Of Cards.


The win and nominations in a major industry award category solidified Netflix as serious competitor for networks like Fox, NBC, ABC, and CBS. It highlighted Netflix’s impressive roster of writers, directors, and actors --Kevin Spacey, Jason Bateman, and Weeds creator Jenji Kohan--who are helping the Internet-based service produce successful and artistically rich original content. But if anything, Netflix’s strong presence at the Globes suggests a broader and more significant change within the television world. 


With the rise of new media platforms such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon, audiences have more places to watch TV. Sellers also have more programmers to sell their series to and television has become a buyer’s market.  


Media platforms like Netflix, Hulu, and even Amazon have all released successful series this past season. They have lured big-time writers and directors like Weed's Jenji Kohan and “Fight Club’s” David Fincher. TV is now drawing big-time players like Matthew McCaughey (True Detective), Martin Scorsese (Boardwalk Empire), and John Goodman (Alpha House) to the small screen,  which was unthinkable 10 years ago.


Yet this “Golden Age” in TV also means fierce competition. With the rise in popularity of digital platforms like Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu, the television landscape has been severely altered. Internet channels have revolutionized the way television is consumed and produced. Audiences are no longer restricted by a network’s broadcasting schedule. And these alternative programmers are producing original content with the luxury of time, money, and flexibility. These channels are creating original, critically acclaimed content like Orange Is The New Black, Behind The Mask, and Alpha House.


According to Nielsen’s Over-the Top Video Analysis report, “45 percent of Netflix streaming subscribers say the types of shows they watch when they stream are original programming, such as House Of Cards or Lilyhammer.” As a result a debate has ensued within the television industry in which critics argue that the “traditional” television model is outdated and perhaps restrictive with changing audience demands, habits, and desires.



The “traditional” broadcast television model runs on what is known as the pilot season. The season runs from January through May. It’s during this period that a new slate of shows are developed and shot. In May, the new pilots are presented to advertisers who then decide which new shows they will back. This means that broadcast networks are controlled by the time restraints and inflexibility of the pilot season. This can’t change until advertisers change the way they spend money. This is why critics argue that the pilot is a broken system. 


Streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon have recognized the space for original content and are reaching out to fill the need that is left behind. These media platforms don’t work under these time and financial restraints when producing original content. They have the luxury of spending more flexible time and with certain programs more money on developing content—a convenience that broadcast television does not always have.


In a February 1, 2013 CNN Money article, Juliane Pepitone wrote that, Netflix spent $50 million per season on House of Cards. This kind of capital and time flexibility also allowed Netflix to secure a star-studded cast that includes Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright, and Kate Mara. Some have argued that quality is sacrificed under the tight and inflexible time restraints that pilot season creates. Time flexibility means you can get feature actors and artists who are weary of the 22-episode model. Networks, the argument goes, should spend less time on pilots, and more time on developing talent and content. Critics claim successful networks should focus on series rather than pilots.



Perhaps the biggest indicator of these shifts and changes was FOX’s announcement that it would bypass pilot season. On January 13, 2014, The Hollywood Reporter reported that at this year’s Television Critics Association’s press tour, Fox announced that it will now focus on developing series rather than pilots. (The network already has nine projects in the works under this model).  “RIP pilot season,” joked FOX chief executive Kevin Reilly at the press tour. Reilly explained that, “The broadcast development system was built in different era and is highly inefficient.” He argued, “It is nothing short of a miracle that talent can still produce anything of quality in that environment. When they are competing, frankly, with a huge swath of cable that has a lot of flexibility and order pattern and flexibility in when the shows can go on, cable networks are able to course correct creatively and reshoot and recast." Fox’s decision to move away from pilot season is a huge marker that perhaps TV’s traditional development system is antiquated.


It is important to note, however, that broadcast television can still be successful. This past season, NBC’s The Sound of Music drew in 18.5 million viewers live and with the DVR numbers, viewership jumped to 21.8 million. And with the its biggest competitor being the Olympics, The Big Bang Theory still drew in 17.5 million viewers.


Similar to most creative industries, new technology has brought about major changes in the world of television. Companies must get creative to adapt to the new landscape and successfully compete within their industry. This can be seen with Amazon’s Betas and Alpha House, which are the first shows to be chosen directly by consumers. This past season, Amazon put out a new slate of pilots that are voted on by Amazon users. Based on the audiences’ decision, Amazon will develop those pilots into series. Critics argue that broadcast television must do the same in order to adapt to a rapidly changing climate.


Author Bio:

Veronica Mendez is a contributing writer at Highbrow Magazine.

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