Friday, December 28, 2007

UHD for Jericho, Friday Night Lights, Kidnapped, and Touch Evil

Looking for scripted programming to watch? If you have HD television that includes Universal HD (UHD), there's a good chance you could have four TV series to watch which did no do well in viewership the first time around. On Fridays, beginning January 4, Jericho and Friday Night Lights will be aired weekly. On Sundays, beginning January 6, Kidnapped and Touching Evil will be aired weekly.

Jericho and Friday Night Lights are from last season so its not hard to find press and fan sites on the web.

Kidnapped was pulled by NBC after 5 of 13 episodes aired in 2006. Timothy Hutton and Dana Delaney star as a wealthy and powerful New York couple whose teenage son has been kidnapped. With local law enforcement, the FBI, and a private negotiating team all working on the case, one might think the boy would be rescued in no time...but as the series unfolds, it becomes clear that this "perfect" family may be hiding a few dark secrets of their own. Other stars are Jeremy Sisto and Delroy Lindo.

Thirteen episodes of Touching Evil originally appeared on USA in 2004 but was cancelled. Jeffrey Donovan stars as Detective David Creegan, who after surviving a near-fatal gunshot wound to the head, takes a 12-month psychological leave of absence. He returns to work for the FBI's new Organized and Serial Crime Unit, a rapid-response, elite crime squad. His brush with death renders him fearless in his relentless pursuit of justice as he and his partner Vera Farminga specialize in solving shocking, high profile crimes.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Directors Guild statement misrepresented; writers and advertisers meeting directly

Many in the trade media who are management oriented are misrepresenting the Directors Guild statement made yesterday by President Michael Apted and Negotiations Committee Chair Gil Cates leaving out the important comment italicized in the following:

Because we want to give the WGA and the AMPTP more time to return to the negotiating table to conclude an agreement, the DGA will not schedule our negotiations to begin until after the New Year, and then, only if an appropriate basis for negotiations can be established. If that’s the case, then the DGA will commence formal talks in the hope that a fresh perspective and the additional pressure we can bring to bear will help force the AMPTP to settle the issues before us in a fair and reasonable manner.

See the DGA website.

It also appears writers and advertisers are meeting directly. See http://blogs.mediapost.com/tv_board/?p=225

Comedy at Funny or Die web site

Professional (or struggling semi-professional) script writers need a web site to turn to which offers some serious production values. YouTube may have its audience, but most production is amateur and...let's face it...mostly disorganized and boring.

Comedy now has the Funny or Die web site which describes itself as:

Funny Or Die was created by the guys at Gary Sanchez Productions (Will Ferrell, Adam McKay and Chris Henchy) and a bunch of Silicon Valley dudes and ladies who drive Hondas and watch old episodes of Babylon Five. Michael Kvamme, an aspiring young comedian, came up with a concept for a new kind of comedy site and Randy Adams, a Silicon Valley serial entrepreneur, signed on to handle design and implementation. Now, Funny Or Die has offices in Japan, Madagascar and Bahn, nine full time lobbyists in Washington and an elite private security force consisting of four hundred soldiers and six attack helicopters.

This site is a good place to go as the Writers Strike continues and you need a professional comedy fix.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Slow "Lockout" of Actors and Directors

It's worth noting that many thought a settlement with the Writers was possible. Everyone is ignoring June 2008 but the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTA). What has yet to be considered is the June 2008 expiration of contracts with the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the Directors Guild of America (DGA).

In my opinion, the AMPTP never had any intention of settling with the Writers and is not bargaining in good faith. SAG and DGA are expecting to have to strike to get the piece of the action they want.

So, in essence, they are slowly being "locked out" by the AMPTA before their contract is up, in an effort to weaken their resolve before talks start.

Monday, December 3, 2007

BBCA offering second season of Life on Mars beginning December 11

The 2nd season of BBCA's curious scifi-time-shift/crime procedural "Life on Mars" premiers December 11 (2 hours). We like it. Since David Kelly is producing an American version for ABC and some consider it "Journeyman" done right, take a look.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

New scripted programming to air on cable beginning in January - Is it a trend?

Cable channels have scripted programming ready, and its a go:

On SciFi: "Flash Gordon" and "Stargate Atlantis" new seasons begin on Friday January 4.

On USA: "Monk" and "Psych" new seasons begin on Friday, January 11.

On ABCFamily: "Kyle XY" and "Wildfire" new seasons begin on Mondays, January 14 and January 21 respectively.

On AMC: a new series "Breaking Bad" will premier on Sunday, January 20; story line - a terminally ill high school chemistry teacher becomes a meth dealer to provide for his family's future, starring Bryan Cranston (Hal, the dad, in "Malcolm in the Middle") as Walter White.

Friday, November 30, 2007

New Kyle XY Episodes

Season 2-B on "Kyle XY" will premiere on Monday, January 14 on ABC Family, beginning a run of 10 new episodes.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Scripted Programs to watch as networks start reruns

Scripted programs are starting into reruns. Here's some upcoming new shows to watch:

mini-series Tin Man, a 3 parter beginning 12/02 on Scifi
new episodes of The Closer and Saving Grace on TNT 12/03
new episodes of Monk and Psych on USA 12/07

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Murdoch Indicates DVD Sales Should Be Target for Scripted TV

News media recently have reported network CEO's positioning themselves within context of the writers strike through comments regarding the future of scripted TV. But News Corp's Chairman and 30% owner Rupert Murdoch is not a "hired gun" CEO. His entire life is tied to New Corp.

In News Corp's annual shareholder meeting and a media conference following (yeah, profits look great and the Wall Street Journal is going to become a free web site), Murdoch pointed to the fragmentation of the market for free-to-air TV in the US. With as many as 200 channels in every home through subscription TV, "old free-to-air television is seeing its audience whittled down".

While indicating that the future of television is "going to be, for a long time, on the television set in front of your couch," Murdoch called broadcast television "highly challenged industry in America" and noted that while events as the Super Bowl can still prosper, series that fill prime time are at risk for generating declining interest among audiences and advertisers alike.

Regarding script-based programming, Murdoch suggested his business model: "The essential thing is we make them very, very high quality so that they can be sold around the world and find an audience, and then be brought back to America--or to anywhere in the world, for that matter --and be sold as DVDs."

In other words, the Nielsen C3 rating can't be the only thing considered when selecting and renewing script-based programming. "We're finding that several programs, which you would think (based) on their ratings couldn't be making money ... are in fact very profitable (via DVD sales)," he continued.

News Corp is strategically position to handle the transition in the tv arena. It has a fleet of cable channels, is selling nine local Fox stations, and putting effort into serving mobile devices. Murdoch sees mobile phones as a significant media platform: "I don't see myself ever watching a classic film on my telephone, but I certainly see, you know, catching up with a football game or something while moving around."

Regarding the strike, Murdoch, whose company owns 20th Century Fox, said the screenwriters "don't have much financial pressure to apply."

"I don't think yet we've seen any ratings declines. In three months' time, who knows?" Murdoch said. "Some shows repeat much better than others," he said. "Shows that are serialized repeat badly, comedy repeats very well."

Fox, of course, is considered by many to be the network best position to weather the strike, with January to bring the popular reality show "American Idol" and the first season of "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" which has been completed. And the baseball season delayed showing current season episodes of many shows.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Follow the Money - Away from Broadcast Television

According to an article in Online Media Daily, Universal McCann Worldwide CEO Nick Brien, whose 20-year career has made him one of the most influential executives in the world of integrated marketing and advertising, noted this week that big name-brand marketers are moving away from traditional media channels and are threatening to shift the lion's share of their budgets online.

Brien was in New York to deliver the opening keynote address at the ad:tech New York Interactive Marketing Conference on November 6th. "If this happens for another year, significant clients will want to walk," Brien said Monday in reference to a general climate of discontent due to increasing viewer fragmentation, disruptive technologies, and the resulting decrease in returns from ad spending.

Brad Brinegar, chairman and CEO of Havas' McKinney, supported Brien's contention predicting that over 50% of McKinney's business will be digital in less than two years.

These statements confirm an August BusinessWeek survey. Surveyed were top marketing executives from Kraft Foods, Home Depot, Yahoo!, and Pepsi, and agency executives from BBDO, Leo Burnett, Ogilvy & Mather, Saatchi & Saatchi, and more. Of the largest advertisers (clients and agency-side executives on accounts larger than $750 million) who took part in the survey, 42.4% said TV spending would take the biggest hit in their budgets this year. Comments indicated that concerns were about commercial-skipping DVRs and new opportunities online.

These reports all are indicative of a major transition facing producers of episodic scripted tv. Supplemental tools will be required such as product placement, 10-second commercials which make that skip button not worth the effort, or entertaining commercials people will want to watch to continue broadcast tv use of scripted tv

More likely over the next five years, more scripted tv will be delivered over the internet with ad support, through premium subscription channels, or through pay-per-view options. Don't minimize the ad supported internet route. Consider the recent comment by Chris DeWolfe, the founder and CEO of MySpace, part of News Corp.: "If you are a drycleaners in Santa Monica, you can spend say $50, create your own banners, and target it to users within 5 miles. The zip code that users put in are 99 percent accurate, from our research."

Monday, November 12, 2007

The Screen Writers Guild strike, technology, and the future of scripted television

Part I - Relevant History

The Television Writers Guild strike is viewed by many as just another labor dispute. It’s not. It is the first nationally significant economic acknowledgment of the transition in home entertainment that has been under way for a decade. For this industry, 2008 is 1948 all over again.

At the beginning of 1948, the primary choices for purchased or broadcast home entertainment were (a) books and magazines, (b) 78 rpm phonograph records, or (c) radio (other than self-generated entertainment such as playing a piano or singing). About 3 million tv sets had been purchased by pioneer viewers who had relatively little to watch. By the end of 1953, that number had grown ten-fold to over 30 million with 50% of Americans having a television set in their home. By the end of 1958, the number of television sets sold had doubled again, to over 60 million, many of course replacing black and white sets with color (80,000 sold by RCA in 1958).

Television programming was just a continuation of the same categories prevalent in radio in 1940. In a manner similar to books and movies, radio and tv offered fiction and non-fiction programming. In addition to fiction and non-fiction, both offered a category comparable to vaudeville, "entertainment consisting of a number of individual performances, acts, or mixed numbers, as by comedians, singers, dancers, acrobats, and magicians." That category could be termed "televaudeville". In the 1950's, the basics of "televaudeville" were established by the likes of Sid Caesar and Ed Sullivan, plus game shows such as "You Bet Your Life" and "Amateur Hour" and the popular daytime reality show "Queen for a Day."

By the mid-1950's, television brought about the transformation of radio, reducing it down to its current formats - recorded music, talk shows, and news. Many executives, writers, and performers failed to make the transition successfully. This history is relevant to the changing economics of television.

We need to understand changing terminology. Much like the music industry continued referring to a newly released cd as an "album", it is now doing so even though the "album" is a group of mp3 file downloads. What was known in 1960 as "tv" is now being viewed on DVD’s and viewed online as MPEG files, either as downloads or video streams. So "tv" has become something of a generic term. And the broadcast television industry is facing a significant transition as "tv" has become generic.

Continue to Part II

The Screen Writers Guild strike, technology, and the future of scripted television

Part II - The Influence of the Digital Video Recorder

In the early 1970's, music industry executives were ruffled by the cassette tape recorder. In the early 1980's, film industry and television executives were ruffled by the video cassette recorder. But as it turned out, both formats produced inferior quality results and really were n0t that easy to use within the typical home. Even home CD and DVD recording systems don’t represent a significant economic problem.

Computer digital files are making a significant impact in the form of digital audio (mp3) "file sharing" and purchase of new releases. But the startling change regarding digital video recording occurred this year in the television industry - the advent of C3.

The commercial success of a book or a movie is easily determined. You just total up the gross receipts paid by the end users - the readers, the audience, folks like you and me. The commercial success of a television show is different because the end user - the viewer - is only one factor among many considered by advertisers and complex media corporations. And that process of consideration has become extremely narrow because of the "digital revolution."

Most viewers are aware of the "Nielsen Ratings" as a vague concept but have no idea of the recent major change. The traditional Nielsen Ratings - how many watch what show - have become worthless to the primary consumer of the ratings - advertisers. The networks and the advertisers have insisted upon C3 ratings. The Nielsen C3 ratings are the average viewership for only the commercial time within the program for live viewing plus three days of recorded viewing.

C3, which became available on May 31, 2007 has been called the "dominant currency" now in the television economic market. Why has this come about? What does it mean for you, me, and the television script writers? Contained within the answer to this question is the reason the Screen Writers Guild is on strike.

C3 is the result of the digital video recorder or DVR. You might know it as TiVo. My household knows it as the Dish Network digital video recorder (DVR). While it is the logical successor to the old VHS video tape recorder, it isn’t. It’s the result of the personal computer revolution. The DVR is much easier to use than a VHS tape player and it can store hundreds of hours of programming on a hard drive because it is a computer. People using a DVR play a show back at their leisure, a viewing habit called "time shifting." And by pressing a "skip forward" button on the DVR remote a couple of times, the viewer can skip commercials.

As of this summer, the Nielsen people say that the DVR is in over 20% of homes. Advertisers are not interested in these time shifters watching their ad next week. Hence the 3-day thing. Advertisers don’t care if the viewers watch the show. They want to know how many watch their commercials. Hence, the need for the C3 to measure viewing of commercials

Continue to Part III

The Screen Writers Guild strike, technology, and the future of scripted television

Part III - Why Broadcast TV Can’t Use Scripted Programming

As we can now see, because of the DVR and the C3 rating system, the only thing economically important about any ad supported TV show is how many viewers watch commercials live or within 3 days after the air date. Any show that does not incline viewers to watch live and/or within 3 days is commercially disadvantaged.

Consider two wildly successful programs - "American Idol" and "Dancing with the Stars." If you have viewed these shows, one fact is obvious - much like a football game, you really need to view these shows live or nearly live. If you watch them recorded more than a day later, you are likely to have heard the results and miss all the "shared excitement, angst, anger, and joy." And even more compelling for millions of viewers, if you watch these two shows live you get to vote! And if you watch them live, advertisers believe you are bound to "view" some of the commercials. Further, these shows require a competition show on one night and a results show on another night, adding to the ad revenue for the networks.

Also consider two of CBS' reasonably successful programs - "Survivor" and "Amazing Race." Again, much like a football game, you really need to view these shows live or nearly live. If you watch them recorded more than a day later, you are likely to have heard the results and miss all the "shared excitement, angst, anger, and joy" around the water cooler.
Scripted dramas and comedy, on the other hand, can be watched when the mood strikes. Sure, you can have an occasional "Who killed JR?" cliffhanger which created some shared angst. Ordinarily though, if you hear around the watercooler that they killed off a character in a show like "Law and Order", you might feel a bit left out, but you'll watch the episode on tape and continue to "time shift" future episodes anyway.

And so, most completely-scripted programming is likely to become severely devalued to advertisers and the networks under these circumstances.

Aware of the changes and aware that not everyone has a DVR, NBC offers full episodes of over 20 programs to be watched live through an internet connection - with ads, of course. Members of our household can watch these episodes on our 42" plasma "TV" which is really just a monitor without a tuner that connects directly to our computer and audio system.

To expand upon this, after trying out a deal with Apple to feed shows to iPods, NBC joined with Fox to create a venture called Hulu.com. Jeff Zucker, CEO of NBC-Universal said regarding the move away from Apple: "We don't want to replace the dollars we were making in the analog world with pennies on the digital side."

The Hulu web site explains what it's all about:

"We hope to provide you with the web's most comprehensive selection of premium programming across all genres and formats - television shows, feature films, clips, and more...."
"Hulu offers current primetime shows like The Office, Prison Break, Bionic Woman, House and Bones, and episodes from TV classics like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Miami Vice, Arrested Development and more. We've also partnered with premier content owners like E! Entertainment, FUEL TV, SciFi Network and USA Networks to add to our growing collection of premium programming."
"Hulu is designed with a singular focus on providing an exceptional, online video viewing experience....
"Hulu lets you easily share your favorite videos via email or embed them on your own website. You can even choose to share the entire video or just one scene....
"Hulu lets you enjoy your favorite videos at websites where you are already spending your time online...AOL, Comcast, MSN, MySpace and Yahoo...."


Is this going to change television? Zucker recently noted that NBC.com had 50 million video streams in October, 50% higher than the previous record, in May. "It's become a small cable channel in our universe," he said. Of the Hulu venture he said it was a "superstore" while NBC.com was a "specialty shop." He indicated that the digital issue is the biggest nightmare in his job. "Nobody has figured out the economic model yet. And if we don't figure it out soon, those dollars will turn to pennies."

What did Zucker have to say about the writers strike? "It will be a real watershed event, [and we'll see] whether [viewers will] come back to scripted programming," he said. "An event like this will happen at everyone's peril." The issue for the writers is residuals on viewing of programming on the internet or downloaded through the internet.

Continue to Part IV

The Screen Writers Guild strike, technology, and the future of scripted television

Part IV - 1948 All Over Again?

Neither television industry executives, nor the writers, nor any of us viewers know where scripted episodic drama and comedy programming will end up within five years. We need to think in terms of media, source of funding, format or survival.

Consider again the radio-to-tv transition of the 1948-to-1958 period and thereafter. NBC, which was the top national radio network of the 1930's and 40's, survived as a corporation in the entertainment industry. And in the summer of 1987, NBC Radio's network operations were sold to Westwood One, and the NBC-owned stations were sold to various buyers. (The same case occurred with the Mutual Broadcasting System and CBS Radio, which Westwood One acquired and essentially merged with NBC Radio.)

It's easy to understand the Screen Writers Guild strike in the context of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers refusal to seriously talk about residuals from new media. Consider headlines such as "With writers on strike, networks ready a dose of reality with plenty of games." You may be getting a glimpse of the future of ad-based broadcast tv. As a scripted art form, tv may soon be delivered to your home however and by whomever.

It's 1948 all over again, except broadcast tv is now in the position of radio. Or is it?

Yes, that ad supported NBC channel you watch now may degenerate into only news, sports, and televaudeville. But there is something you need to know about that TV station - it has gone digital. Over-the-airwaves local TV stations are now broadcasting as many as four digital channels. A digital signal can be encrypted, meaning you could be charged for access to the signal.

We could begin to see subscription-based over-the-airwaves TV following the HBO/Showtime model. NBC-Universal may figure this out and may help their affiliate local stations by distributing scripted programming for subscription-based TV, perhaps with shows having a sponsor like the PBS model. And if the NBC/Universal thinks of it, you could start seeing the cable USA and Bravo channels on those sub-signals, attempting to capture that remaining 15% of the TV market not served by cable or satellite. The FCC will allow all this in the name of competition.

So maybe it is 1948 again, and to paraphrase Zucker, everyone in the business of scripted video needs to figure out an economic model that will work, including the Screen Writers Guild and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. The Screen Actors Guild members should take note - stars receive large sums per episode likely may become a thing of the past because no one's going to find a market for a $5 million episode of a 30 minute comedy. And the Screen Actors Guild and the Directors Guild both have contracts expiring in June 2008. Everyone needs to start figuring out how to share those residuals.

Continue to Part V

The Screen Writers Guild strike, technology, and the future of scripted television

Part V - Quarterlife: Will Scripted TV Mean Indy TV?

Basically, we seek out fiction books to share, to expand the narrative within our minds, and to enjoy the imagination of the novelist. We seek out fiction in movies to enjoy the vision of the writer's imagination as envisioned by the director, actors, cinematographer, special effects creators, etc. Which brings us to the future of scripted tv.

If you are a talented writer and have a friend that is a talented director, and you both have friends who are talented cinematographers, actors, etc., you have a fledgling tv production company. For a relatively modest investment in hardware and software you could start producing and delivering HD "webisodes" either for a fee or with advertising. In other words, the Indy Film industry could expand into an Indy TV industry that could easily distribute scripted programs to the home. And everyone in the business is watching quarterlife.

quarterlife is the new online series from the creative team behind "My So-Called Life," "thirtysomething," "Legends of the Fall," and "Blood Diamond." It is the first time a professional network-quality series has been produced directly for the Internet. And it's the first time an independent project of this distinction has been owned and controlled by its creators Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick. And you can watch it at www.quarterlife.com in high resolution wide screen. We watch it on our 42" plasma connected to a somewhat older computer which is also connected to our surround sound system. The quality is as good as any standard definition wide-screen programming. If we used an updated computer, it might reach HD quality.

The actors are professionals: Bitsie Tulloch as "Dylan" ("Lonelygirl15," "LOST," "West Wing"), Maite Schwartz as "Lisa" ("Medium," "Dexter," "House of Grimm"), Scott Michael Foster as "Jed" ("Greek," "The Horrible Flowers"), David Walton as "Danny" ("Heist," "Cracking Up"), Michelle Lombardo as "Debra" ("Click," "Entourage," "October Road") Kevin Christy as "Andy" ("Love Don't Cost a Thing") and Barrett Swatek as "Brittany" ("Seventh Heaven," "40-Year-Old Virgin").

The commercial success of the show will be the big question. The intent is to include advertising half way through each 8 minute webisode. The web site, quarterlife.com, has been set up as a ad supported social network for twenty-somethings, particularly the more creative types.

The show debuted on MyspaceTV.com on November 11, 2007, and on quarterlife.com on November 12th. Also, the series will be made available to other partners such as YouTube, Facebook, and Imeem, one week after each episode airs on MySpace. MySpaceTV will air the first 36 webisodes of quarterlife. Each webisode will be about eight minutes long, and two episodes will air every week, on Thursdays and Sundays.

Is the show good enough? The show was originally conceived as an ABC pilot three years ago. ABC/Touchstone gave the material back to the to Herksovitz and Zwick. Now that episodes have been produced and the writers strike is in full-swing, according to a November 9 story in The Hollywood Reporter NBC is in talks with Zwick and Herskovitz to buy acquire the show.

Continue to Part VI

The Screen Writers Guild strike, technology, and the future of scripted television

Part VI - Indy TV or the Corporations, the Economics of Scripted TV Will Change

No doubt exists that the corporate leaders are looking to online revenues for future growth. As discussed, guys like NBC’s Zucker with their Hulu may be smart enough to make money out of the transition from broadcast television and also help those in the Indy TV industry make some real money, with or without ads.

Disney (ABC) CEO Bob Iger was called upon to defend the company's narrow online video distribution at a recent corporate event. After doing a song and dance defense, he described it as an interesting debate, explaining that the original idea of amassing most of the video on ABC.com was to promote the shows, use the site to upsell and "it also became a pretty good platform for advertisers."

He added: "We're going to take a pretty expansive view. .. We're going to be on more places than iTunes, ABC.com and AOL." (He skipped over a mention of the possible effect of Steve Jobs as a Disney board member and shareholder.)

Iger also referred to a desire for a high-quality user interface and an environment "that's right for the product we create" and not lumped in with a massive amount of product that varies greatly in quality.

In the 18 months or so since ABC.com started streaming episodes, users have started around 160 million episodes while buyers have downloaded 33 million shows through iTunes.

While the home entertainment industry struggles to cope with changes over he next 5-to-10 years, viewers who want to watch scripted tv will need to adapt. That’s us, folks. And that’s what this blog about. Oh, and The Guardian reported Sunday that Google is in discussions with Simon Fuller, the British entrepreneur behind American Idol and the Spice Girls, about a joint venture that could change the way TV is watched over the internet.