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The Golden Age of Content : Tv Series on demand (joss whedon mention)

Sunday 18 June 2006, by Webmaster

There is a small utopian idea that has been rattling around in my brain for the last few months as every man and his search engine gear up to offer me more content than I will ever be able to consume.

It is this: Where are they going to get it from? Iraqi women are creating blogs that become award winning books, guerrilla filmmakers are creating DV movies that get nominated for Oscars, Microsoft is having another crack at producing video content and there is every chance that this time they will do it right. In the coming years the dozens of barriers between myself and quality content are going to evaporate. The government funding bodies, the witless studio executives, the cliques of producers who seek to keep newbies out of the market, the schizophrenic television schedules... They will all become less and less relevant.

I only want to touch briefly on User Generated Content here because I spoke to it in depth last month. This is not the kind of content that I mean when I say “Golden Age of Content”. Short videos of drunk frat boys mimicking Jackass is amusing but are still inferior to the very bottom of the TV barrel. (Another season of Wife Swap, anyone?) However, UGC will play a critical role in my coming Golden Age. It will be a petrie dish. The absolute miracle that is viral popularity will see some genuinely funny, genuinely arresting potential seeds of content reach the right people. By right people I mean the Joss Whedons and Richard Rodriguezes of the world -those with the smarts and the stones to see the potential of this medium and the restrictions of the old. The day that the first properly produced webisode of a program whose origin lies in UGC is available for download from iTunes will mark the beginning of my Golden Age. There is so much good content out there that never sees the light of day because either the creators do not know the right people or broadcasters and advertisers do not recognize its potential. In the coming years neither of these things need to matter.

As everyone knows, the key factor in the ubiquity of Reality Television is that it has very low overheads. No writer fees, no actor fees, only a couple of ludicrous casino-inspired sets, principal sponsors picking up the tab -it works out a whole lot cheaper than scripted drama. Hence the studios and networks feed us more and more of it. Let them. I will soon get my scripted drama fix online. If I want to watch fat Americans cry on a beach in Fiji I will tune in. (Or fly to Fiji.)

The greatest tragedy in recent television history is the canceling of Arrested Development. The program’s rabid fan base (myself included) would do anything to get more of it. Do you think we could stretch to spending a couple of dollars getting episodes of series four online? Oh yes! And here was a program that was largely based around one set with the rest of it shot on location. Comparatively low overheads, verite shooting style. A perfect contender for a webisode series.

What about Firefly? Essentially one big set and some Californian location shooting. Or Angel (can you tell that I really love Joss?) -Any program with a cult following and more story to tell needs to look seriously at webisodes in future. The audience is already there and they are vocal about the product.

Let’s do some numbers. 200 000 downloads at -say- four dollars a pop. One million US dollars per episode before you get to principal sponsors and pre-rolls. (In my Golden Age there are no advertisements interrupting my downloaded episodes.) In the grand scheme of things -especially for a Joss Whedon program- that is not a lot of money to move on. It could be doable for the program examples I just mentioned because all the initial production costs have been soaked up during their broadcast seasons. And besides, 200 000 is a very conservative estimate. If your content is good, then viral popularity will kick in. That cannot be stressed enough. If you give me good content, you will make money. If you give me bad content, you will lose money.

The potential for quality content goes beyond new programs. Within established universes there are a multitude of stories to tell -stories that will see extra viewers tuning in when the show is broadcast. Do you think Lost fans would want to watch more stories about the second group of survivors? Those first forty days were breezed over in an episode or two. What about the first time Mary-Alice, Lynette, Bree, Susan and Gabrielle bonded? (Actually I would much rather see more backstory with Eedie and Martha Huber. They were stellar together.)

Of course, this article is optimistic and na´ve. I did mention it was a utopian idea after all. Things I have not addressed include Luddite reactions from studios, the fact that for the first few years all we will get is content that has already been broadcast -in effect reruns that you have to pay for, the sadness for the first couple of brave producers who will likely lose money until audiences get their heads around webisodes as a new medium, advertisers realizing it is cheaper for them to make their own programs where their products are the heroes, the list goes on.

But still, it pays to be optimistic. I will let you all know when my comedy/drama podcast is available from iTunes.