Let Network TV Die

A recent article from The AV Club titled “Let’s Save Network TV” argued that broadcast networks need to make content cheaper, less scripted drama and more “other formats” of shows (like variety shows, game shows etc) in order to survive, since their shows cannot compete with cable offerings like Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad and others.

I would advocate a different solution; let network TV die its natural death, so that something better can take it’s place.

It’s an incredibly scary thought, but consider this; instead of making a TV show and selling it to a network, a production company now can make a “TV series” and sell it on the web.

So what future the networks? Well part of the process of buying anything is trust. Recognisable brand names like FOX, CBS, ABC or NBC could become portals through which the shows are bought, or given away, ad-supported. Only because you have to be logged in to be able to stream the shows, you can serve users ads specific to them. There’s no point advertising women’s hair products to men, for example. And if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t want any ads, you can own the show the day it airs as a download (or add it to your account so you can stream it ad-free forever). The decision to buy is safer because you recognise the network/portal.

Netflix is using a similar model to this, creating new subscribers by making new shows. You have the new show (which is great) to bring people in, and then they discover all the other content you have available. Amazon and Hulu are beginning to try this as well, but at some point the problem they will run into will be that they rely on the networks and cable for their back catalogs. When that happens they’ll have to ramp up production of new shows to compensate, creating their own IP that they can exploit. When that happens, my hope is that there’s a race-to-the-top, and the winner will be whomever can create the best shows, and along with the shows, the best user-experience on the portal – integrating social media, second screens, letting you watch where-ever you are, never experiencing buffering issues… There’s no denying that there’s a huge system to create.

Shows can come from anywhere for these portals (I’m trying to get away from saying “channels” or “networks” because it’s such a shift) – big established production companies to indies, from anywhere in the world. And more importantly the portal can decide that rather than selling to TV channels overseas, though they can keep doing that if they like, they could expose themselves to a worldwide market, cutting middle men out and giving audiences the same show at the same time, rather than having to wait for it to come to their country. Yes, DVD sales will get cannibalised, but if they’re declining as it stands anyway.

You might think it’ll never happen because the networks are too invested (financially and culturally) in being “the networks” but I believe that over the course of the next ten years, something like this is *going* to happen. It’s when, rather than if. The choice for the networks is to fight it, or to adapt to it.

If you were designing a delivery system for short-form content right now, and none existed already, it wouldn’t be TV. It’d be via the web, taking advantage of all the technology that is out there to deliver a great experience for the users. That’s a future I’d love to see. Nobody’s saying it’d be easy, but if you can “crack it” then there has to be money to be made.

I’d love to hear more opinions about this – leave a comment, Tweet me, let me know what you think!