Sunday, 23 February 2014

The Web Series and the Future of Television

Television has evolved quite a bit over the last few years. Original content is coming from everywhere, and some of these sources may be where you may least expect. There are no longer clear lines in the structure of a series. The industry has continued to evolve to the point that every network is doing something a little different and unique with it's programming.  Ultimately these evolutions are aimed at maximising the profits of each show for each network. So what is the future of television as we know it today? Well no one can exclude the conclusion that the future of television is linked with the internet. Whether it is illegal downloads or legitimate streaming it is clear that more and more users will access their "television entertainment" through the internet. This has seemingly led to a strange by-product.  While networks and distributors everywhere are scrambling to get their content accessible in a way that is both profitable to them and is preferable to the consumer; the consumer has continued to use the internet as the hub of their entertainment. In the meantime the web-series evolved into a quality form of entertainment that in many ways exceeds traditional television.  Is the future of entertainment "the web-series"? If I had been asked years ago I would have said certainly not, but now I am not so sure. 

When you consider the dramatic changes that normal programming has undergone in only the last few years. I think it is clear that even those with their ears to the ground in the industry do not know which way the wind is turning (but arguably never did). When I was a kid if a show was not on one of the four major networks, then it was not a real television show. Now there are countless networks each with their own original programming. Many of these networks have changed the standard season from 24 to as few as six episodes. Many shows are supplemented with the webisodes throughout or after the seasons. There just does not seem any longer to be these clear defined rules that establish before hand if something is or is not going to be worth watching. We currently live in an era where anyone can create original content and broadcast it. There is no barometer as to quality and no telling where the next great show is coming from. YouTube channels have content from professionals and armatures alike at the push of a button and on the same playlist. Seasoned actors are appearing in budget five minute series on YouTube channels and seasoned veterans in the industry are creating there own content and broadcasting directly to the consumer cutting out the networks all together.

I was fortunate enough to meet William Shatner at OzCon last year. I was one of the few people that was privileged enough to get 5 minutes of one on one time with him in between drinks and entrĂ©es. Once the initial fanaticism wore off and I was able to come to terms that I was a mere three feet away from Captain Kirk. I was able to get some valuable insight from him on this topic. After a minute of explaining that Australian's do not really drink Foster's we began discussing his current projects. He then went on to explain to my friends and I what a podcast was ( this was clearly information we already had, but when Captain Kirk tells you what a podcast is, you listen and react like he just explained the origins of the universe). He then went on to talk about his newest project (something I had never heard of). Which was called Brown Bag Wine Tasting.  The concept being that the person who does the wine tasting drinks it from a paper bag and has no preconceived idea as to the label or year. Which then goes up on his website of the same name of web-series style viewing. I couldn't help but be blown away at the capacity that this man has to embrace change and pioneer a new idea. He very much spoke about web broadcasts as though they were the future of the industry. 

Now I am not claiming that the web series is a new idea, but at that time I did not realise just how widespread the concept of celebrities starring in low budget web-series would be. Just a few short years ago the concept of acting in television was thought to be either a stepping stone to feature film or a sad backward step. Since The Sopranos onwards networks like HBO and Showtime have made it clear that television can be nothing short of the highest caliber of entertainment.  

Then we have pioneers like Felicia Day who created The Guild in 2007. This is just my opinion but this series remains to date one of the best shows of all time (not just for a web series). It is in my opinion that good. This show was created on a shoestring often from volunteers in its early years and the writing ranks for me as clever and funny as any hit show I have seen in the last couple years. The quality of this show was due in no small part to its creator. It begs the question what great programming might we have missed for years because produces and studio executives determined something was not funny, inappropriate or wouldn't play well in the mid west. The Guild is a great example of what can be accomplished with artistic freedom, and the ability of anyone with a pen can create television.

Do not get me wrong! I certainly hope that there is always a place for networks to create ground breaking television. Whether those networks are traditional free to air, cable, or premium channels. I will always need shows that have a budget well into the stratosphere, but time will tell where we get our "tv" in the future.
I think is clear is that the most clever entertainers have already begun adapting, and while the large networks and distributors may be the last to catch the bus, I believe that the industry will evolve, hopefully not to the exclusion of either big budget television or independent web-series. No matter what happens independent media is here to stay and is going to continue to grow. We will see more and more professional YouTube channels.  I do hope to see these concepts merge, but not to the exclusion of the independent film-makers.

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