Culled from the headlines of the media and technology trade press by Katz’s Strategy, Analytics, and Research Team, Content Matters provides a periodic snapshot of news and issues that affect the business of creating, producing, and distributing content across TV, radio, and digital media. Here are this issue's 5 THINGS TO KNOW.
2019 Q4 Issue #2
In 2007, the primordial ooze that would become the streaming universe came into being with a slow exhale as Netflix began streaming its content, eventually supplanting its mail-based DVDs. Since then, the early stars and quasars of the streaming universe have slowly taken shape.
So much has been written about the new TV landscape and streaming’s impact upon the industry that it’s nearly become a cottage industry in itself. (Content Matters is no exception to this phenomenon.) It’s even been said that the “Golden Age” of television is behind us.
Balderdash. Television has always been in a golden age. What we’re experiencing now is just the latest turn in technological alchemy for the medium.
In 30 years, we’ll still have some version of “Me TV”. Although the content will likely be less Barnaby Jones, The Donna Reed Show, and The Love Boat and more Modern Family, The Good Place, and a relatively quaint X-Files, before we knew that aliens actually existed and the FBI just doesn’t care anymore. The Golden Age is a moving target.
The streaming landscape of today will also most likely be very retro. Certainly it’s changing the ecosystem as we’ve known it, but we really have no idea of the 30-year impact.
What is pretty well certain is that TV will still be around. Since Gluk beaned Urrp with a prehistoric rock and his buddy laughed as a unicorn-shaped lump formed on his noggin as baby pterodactyls circled around it, the human race has always been looking to visual storytelling as entertainment.
What is less of a guarantee is the method of storytelling. In a very short time, our dwindling attention spans have been sated by the new paradigm of the binge culture. Disney has been reticent to join this model, instead opting to release new episodes of its original streaming programs episodically, like broadcast. But as the streaming wars continue to escalate, will their resolve hold?
Free broadcast television isn’t structured to provide content in a library format. So perhaps it will be up to broadcast to lean into what it can do best - establishing dramatic tension and anticipation that requires viewer patience. And in the process, broadcast TV can optimize their social conversation that will reestablish the watercooler effect. One major byproduct of binge culture is the social media’s challenge of handling spoiler etiquette. If it’s on broadcast, there’s no risk of spoilers as everyone will be served their courses one at a time.
The original content found on streaming services generally falls into one of two camps:
- expensive, high-profile cinematic programs that create big explosions when they drop, leaving craters in their wake as subscribers “churn and burn” to the next service when their new season hits, rinse and repeat;
- Lukewarm versions of content that was done better on broadcast
The most vulnerable participants in the landscape going forward look like they’ll be premium and broadcast-like cable networks (selecting streaming services in essence becomes the “skinny bundle” milieu that consumers have been desiring). Niche cable will likely endure, but who’s to say that those won’t move to streaming as well? How well do shopping malls do when the anchor stores leave?
As choice fatigue sets in, the broadcast networks provide comfort in their gentle, episodic pacing. One thing is for sure: despite all that’s been written, we really won’t know how this new content universe will coalesce. This is streaming’s Big Bang (non-Lorre version) period - all of this new matter is being flung out into space. Now we just need to wait and see what sort of new universe these unpredictable gravitational consumer forces create.
For the streaming world, consumers will likely settle naturally down into a choice based upon price and content availability. Will Apple Plus’s low price of $5/month and unique original content be enough to offset their lack of library content? Will Disney’s vast library of pop culture icons justify paying $13 for their package with ESPN+ and Hulu? Will HBO’s $15 monthly charge be streaming’s ceiling? NBC’s Peacock is considering a totally free ad-supported platform available to anyone - with a likely ad-free option for a fee. It’s banquet dining with a la carte pricing.
So in the wake of the burgeoning streaming wars and the long, flat landscape of niche cable, free broadcast TV stands poised to provide a haven for the tired, the poor, and the huddled masses yearning to view free.
For more takes on the developing streaming universe, you can read “The Great Streaming Space-Time Warp Is Coming” from the New York Times, Slate.com’s “The Golden Age of TV Is Over”, and “In a crowded market, smaller streaming services must stand out — or perish”, from the Los Angeles Times.
2 Rebooting the reboot
WILL AND GRACE will soon join MURPHY BROWN back on the network shelves, each receiving their time with a new audience after Andy rediscovers - then moves on from - his beloved toys and goes off to college.
The wayback machine isn’t being retired, although “wayback” may be a generous description of the current generation of upcoming reboots. Of the 22 reboots now pending (or receiving consideration), the average time since the originals went off the air was, ironically, 22 years. My Little Margie and Father Knows Best aren’t exactly being resurrected here. Think instead Alf, Designing Women, and Northern Exposure.
And while “traditional” straight-on reboots are still in the works, there’s a more subtle nod to nostalgia in play for many of your favorite vintage shows. Recently, ABC aired what’s been dubbed a “Cast from the Past” week, reuniting actors from classic shows for guest spots in their current lineup. Some cast members from CHEERS made an appearance on THE GOLDBERGS, two of the CHARMED sisters guested on GREY’S ANATOMY, and THE DREW CAREY SHOW cast had a mini-reunion on AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE.
The CHARMED stunt brought back enough juice that there’s talk of yet another revival of the CW drama with the original cast members, possibly creating a new reboot and throwback version of the same source material.
Meanwhile, some of the cast of THE FACTS OF LIFE are due to appear in a cable Christmas movie, the casting stunt suggested by its star, former FACTS OF LIFE actress, Kim Fields.
Other new shows, specifically ABC’s STUMPTOWN, have much of the same DNA as PI dramas from the ‘70s. And THE GOLDBERGS, set in the 1980’s, is a throwback unto itself.
For more about the current reboot/reunion/revival trend, read Primetimer’s “Stumptown is the Bisexual PTSD Rockford Files Remake We Didn’t Know We Needed”, People’s “The Facts of Life Cast Reunites for Lifetime’s Holiday Special ‘You Light Up My Christmas’”, and “What Is ABC's Cast From the Past Week — and What Shows Are Involved?”. Also, to find a list of many of the possible new reboots coming from DirectExpose.com’s “THE LOW DOWN: Every Upcoming Reboot and Revival To Cure Your TV Nostalgia”
3 Seamless isn't just for ramen anymore
Well, it’s nice that entertainment is taking its cues from the news for a change.
In a bid to create more viewer retention, Fox and Warner Brothers struck a renewal deal that would bring back four syndicated shows (EXTRA, TMZ, TMZ LIVE, AND REAL) with a unique arrangement - seamless transitions between programming. The commercial load would stay intact, simply eliminating ad content and other non-programming content for the last ninety seconds to two minutes of the program. It’s a tactic most notably used by cable news networks.
It’s a move that should be a boon to syndication. As content choices grow, this is a move that goes beyond simple channel changing: it’s a way to take back the platform from the lure of streaming’s black hole.
Celebrity-focused magazine syndicated programs are binge-able in their own way, so creating a seamless gap between Extra and TMZ is somewhat of a content no-brainer (if they’re stripped that way locally). But there is a certain segment that uses syndicated programming as “set it and forget it”, so removing a speed bump will remove any lingering friction.
Tweaking the fringes of content is nothing new. TV theme songs are practically a relic from another age; opening credits often don’t appear until mid-minute of the quarter hour. If post-credit teasers weren’t so inextricably associated with the MCU, those “stay tuned” previews could have their own Twitter followers.
Viewing choices are so overwhelming that any tweaks to audience retention are worth implementing.
For more about this upcoming arrangement, go to Deadline.com’s “‘Extra,’ 3 Other Shows Renewed In Fox-Warner Deal Cutting Show-End Ad Breaks” and from TVNewscheck, “Abernethy: Seamless Flow Can Boost Syndies”
4 Leveraging local radio's crisis experience
Fall in California is dangerous. Just in the past week, in Northern California, the Kincade Fire burned an area more than twice the size of San Francisco, while the Maria Fire caused 11,000 people to be evacuated. If you’re not aware, massive wildfires are so common in California that they’re named like hurricanes, mostly to narrow down geography and allocate resources.
Entercom’s Ken Charles called it “fire mode” when KNX Radio mobilizes.
Radio has the power to reach and possibly rescue people in harm’s way like no other. People can turn to radio when they’re on the go, in crisis mode away from home.
Moreover, thanks to their local knowledge, local broadcasters, radio and TV included, can make connections with specific information that could remain hidden to others coming from outside of the local market. They not only cover the area, they live there. They are part of the community, many for most of their lives, with knowledge gained by their local experience. They know the vulnerabilities - which roads tend to flood, where traffic patterns ebb and flow, and how to best maneuver through the local byways to get people through quickly and safely.
Local reporters can react quickly and have boots on the ground without dialing up GPS to get them there.
Local broadcasters have a vested interest in their communities. We see these reactions often. Unfortunately, this is a regular occurrence in California as these wildfires destroy wide swaths of the state annually. It was evident in Boston during the Boston Marathon bombing, with stations like WCVB on the TV side reacting to the sudden change from event coverage to crisis mode, informing the nation while serving their neighbors.
Radio’s advantage is that their signals aren’t dependent upon screens and coax cables (or Wifi connections). Their “base mode” is over the air. Infrastructure and wiring issues have little impact upon their audience.
When conditions are at their very worst, when it’s nearly literally “hell on Earth”, local broadcasters keep communities tethered, and can help save lives.
For the Ken Charles interview about the California wildfire response, you can read “When Fires Rage Radio Rules”, from Radio Ink.
5 Television shops in the podcasting aisle
TV is returning to its early roots to find content.
In the early, early days of television, networks converted successful radio shows into TV programs. Legendary shows like I Love Lucy, Dragnet, and Gunsmoke all started on radio. The Perry Mason radio show inspired both its TV namesake, but also the soap The Edge of Night.
Now podcasts are its new content inspiration. Did you know that Amazon Prime’s HOMECOMING with Julia Roberts was based upon a podcast?
It’s quite the interesting dynamic of past squarely meeting future.
Given the massive demand from an ever-expanding and content hungry TV universe, exploring every avenue to new content is a requirement. It’s already been siphoning off its own past with reboots and revivals of past TV shows. There’s been a show based upon a Twitter feed.
The boom in podcasting allows for smaller risk for the move to visuals. Leveraging ready-made audiences that already follow these podcasts creates a softer landing than taking a flier on an unknown pilot. Someone’s already done the homework and gotten a good grade on it.
However, this doesn’t say that you simply add a camera and get out of the way. Podcasts are a resource for source material from fresh new storytelling voices that many times would have had no pathway to television. (Let’s face it, having a great idea isn’t all that it takes to get a TV show into production.) But the technological simplicity of hosting a podcast and the ability of social media to grow audiences virally have created a new way in.
For more, go to “How Podcasts Are Changing The TV Landscape”, from Uproxx.com and Insider.com’s “10 popular podcasts that inspired TV shows and specials”