If you don’t read television news, go open up a copy of the Hollywood Reporter, because television news is entertainment in itself. From both an economic and humorous standpoint, the industry is fascinating, and it’s also changing fast. The Internet has in many ways stunned television bureaucracy. The past few years have seen some remarkable differences in television that have somewhat accumulated into two main news stories this past month.
In a few words: Nielsen failed and CBS is now online. Seemingly unrelated, these two events actually inform better conversation about what the future of the industry may look like, as they warn of more changes to come.
Nielsen should probably change its system. Soon.
The ratings system was always an outdated mess of bad economic procedure, so recent events really came as no surprise. However, several months of screwed up ratings are perhaps the most glaring example of the need for a new system. To summarize: TV Networks measure success by Nielsen Ratings, which have only recently changed to include DVR and online viewership. Nielsen therefore is only just now catching onto the fact that much of television is not exactly watched on a television. Additionally, as Fortune Magazine recently pointed out, a lot of money counts on Nielsen Ratings. Ratings comparisons are held in high esteem as they inform decisions about which shows stay on the air. How does this in any way relate to online viewing platforms? I’m getting there.
Why Isn’t Everyone Selling Rights to Netflix?
The interesting thing about online platforms is that they now produce their own television shows. Instead of just being a platform for watching movies like an online movie theater (for example), Netflix is now a competing network. This is shown in one way through its newfound dominating presence at awards shows. Netflix is in the news for taking home large awards and for its intense “popularity.” But Netflix does not release ratings. It doesn’t rely on Nielsen and other networks can’t really compare viewership for specific shows, because Netflix only releases information about subscribers in general, without any information about how “Orange is the New Black” compares to “House of Cards” for example. The shows that network and cable compete against online thus measure successes differently.
The Launch of CBS All Access – The Beginning of Multi-Platform Packages?
Recently, another important event happened. CBS and HBO decided not to buy into Netflix or Hulu. Instead, they both announced plans for their own subscription-only streaming platform. CBS launched “CBS All Access” the same day that HBO announced plans to launch something of a similar format in 2015. Instead of buying into contracts with Netflix or Hulu, CBS has created its own platform. CBS therefore controls what information it receives from the online platform, and it makes money off of the shows directly instead of being contracted with Netflix. This may point to new competition between the networks or it may pinpoint an important change in how we watch television. Right now, cable providers combine network and cable deals. People buy a television package instead of subscribing to specific channels. This was never really similar on the Internet. You always needed Netflix and Hulu and now you even need Amazon Prime if you’re going to keep up with all the “best” television shows out there. (BTW – If you are reading this article but haven’t watched ‘Transparent’ yet, stop reading now, and get to amazon as fast as possible.)
Does this mean that we now will need to subscribe to an even larger multitude of platforms? Instead of buying a cable deal, we’ll have to create Internet deals where I can subscribe to all streaming platforms available for a whopping $49/month. (I may watch more television than you do, so maybe you still only need to subscribe to a few.) But the choice of HBO and CBS to start their own platforms proves that television is trying to enter the 21st century.
The Computer is My New Television You Say?
This announcement came from both a network (CBS) and cable (HBO) channel. Network and cable, stark enemies that are not actually real enemies because the same five companies own them, are shaped differently from a business standpoint. Cable is already a subscription-service. This begs the question of why HBO is moving to “online subscription” when it already functions as a subscription. This is actually quite interesting in that HBO already has HBO Go, which only comes when you have the cable subscription to the actual network. This new platform is accessible even without the cable subscription, essentially proving a separation between the “television platform” and the “computer platform.” This has not gone unnoticed by the industry. Just this week, the chairman of the FCC called for Internet packages that work like cable subscription packages.
Television was uprooted from the introduction of the Internet, and it is still struggling in the aftermath. The largest questions from this month’s TV News end in one important reverie. Is a computer a television? If we sent broadcast signals to computers, would it be any different? You can buy devices to put Internet on your television but you can’t watch live television easily on your computer. The industry is struggling to incorporate computers into the television platform, at the same time that Internet simultaneously joined the television industry with the introduction of YouTube and Netflix. And yet, network still exists and the industry is still trucking along. It’s important to point out that certain executives didn’t see the past month as especially newsworthy and warned against overemphasizing the changes, however, all in all, the past month does remind of an ever-changing industry that is constantly trying to keep up, even as it falters to change its bureaucratic ways.
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