Television’s Second Golden Age Is Only a Click Away
By Jeremy Fancher
In 1921 at the age of 14, Philo Farnsworth, a Utah farm kid, used the concept of plowing back and forth across a field to devise an image dissector, or what became known as the electronic television. In America today, the average household owns 2.8 televisions and watches (coincidentally) 2.8 hours of TV per day.
Yet, while television still dominates as a leisure time activity, the way we consume media is changing quickly with the availability of conventional television content through sites such as Hulu and Netflix, and Internet television — shows produced exclusively for online distribution. Americans now spend, on average, about seven hours per week watching television online.
The Economics of Web Television
Television is, of course, a business. So, how have the economics of media production changed from the paltry 3-channel rabbit-ears 1960s to the vast swath of short, episodic Internet-exclusive content competing with traditional TV programs for our attention today? To get a glimpse of how content is funded and produced, we can look to KoldCast TV’s highly successful show, The Marriage Counselor.
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The Marriage Counselor’s first season features a zany (unlicensed) counselor that subjects or treats his clients to Waiting for Godot-esque absurdity and avant-garde therapy sessions, with a questionable record of success. The episodes are short, sweet, and jam-packed with what the writer calls “some sort of epiphany at the end of each episode . . . unless he just shoots his patient.”
Jerry White, the producer of the show, launched a fundraising campaign through Kickstarter to raise a paltry $1,000 to produce the first season, most of which was poured into the pilot alone. The successful completion of the first season was contingent upon the cast and crew’s volunteering their time for the remaining episodes.
They launched a campaign, set to expire next Saturday, to raise an additional $12,000 to fund the second season. Despite having millions of viewers and distribution through KoldCast TV, the show’s fundraising efforts illustrate how challenging it can be to produce financially feasible original television content for Internet viewing.
From the Emmys to the Streamys
Before the launch of companies like KoldCast, one goal, among many, for most Internet TV Shows was simply to get picked up by a major TV network, or at least be discovered by one. Now, though, it is entirely possible to succeed through online distribution alone. In fact, Internet-exclusive content has become so popular that there are separate awards. The “Streamy” Awards are given to the best producers of web television. For instance, in 2010 Zach Galifianakis won a Streamy for his show Between Two Ferns.
2007-2008 Writers Guild of America Strike
Internet television got a major boost in 2007 as an alternate method of distribution during the Writers Guild of America strike. For instance, Time Magazine named Neil Patrick Harris’ Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, a series produced exclusively for Internet distribution, the fifteenth best invention of 2008. Joss Whedon, who co-wrote Toy Story and The Avengers, produced and co-wrote the series, and people flocked to the “musical tragicomedy mini-series” because of the dearth of innovative content available on cable television during the strike. It even won a special class Emmy award.
Major Players in Web Television
Hulu and Netflix have emerged as major players in producing web television. Hulu launched its first original show, Battleground, last February, and its CEO Jason Kilar has pledged to spend $500 million producing original content in 2012. Netflix, struggling after losing access to the Starz back catalog of content for its popular streaming service, also decided to make the plunge into web television. They nabbed Kevin Spacey for an original show, House of Cards, and plan to launch a new season of Arrested Development next year.
With these major players entering the web television gambit, public crowdfunding sites, like Kickstarter and indiegogo, have taken off. They offer independent television producers an uncomplicated source of funding. Think of crowdfunding as the populist alternative to mainstream corporate content…and all that comes with it! The Marriage Counselor’s first season was seen by millions on KoldCast, an opportunity that wouldn’t be available through the strictures of the insular Hollywood model.
A landing page screenshot for KoldCast TV, an Internet TV pioneer rewriting the rules of content distribution.
Just as independent labels gave talented musicians, who otherwise would have been passed over by the major labels, the opportunity to be discovered, the decentralized production model of Internet television will afford the next generation of great writers and producers opportunities to be discovered without having to navigate the closed-loop labyrinth through which most television up to this point has been produced.
Most industry insiders would agree: we’re on the forefront of the next golden age in television. Just as soon as its rules are written.
Save time. Click to watch The Marriage Counselor Movie
Jeremy Fancher is a third-year student at the University of Michigan Law School. He is left-handed, and wishes he had a dog, which he would name John Elway. Jeremy would hypothetically enjoy taking long walks with said John Elway.