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.
Since then significant changes in the industry provide some directional arrows pointing to how the future might look. And some of these arrows are clearly pointing to a revolution in home entertainment.
It is clear that this revolution does resemble the period from 1948 to 1958 when television displaced radio and movie theaters as the source of entertainment and news for Americans, and audio recording tape gained a foothold on home reproduction of music sources and serving as a portent of the impact of the DVR.
The difference is that the 50 years that have passed did result in an acceleration in the effects of technology on American life. This requires business to adapt rapidly to changes in how Americans live which occur much more rapidly.
Consider for a moment the iPod. Introduced in October 2001, it and/or the iPhone (and similar devices) are embedded in 21st Century world-wide culture as a means of communications, listening to music, and viewing photos and video, as well as a means of creating photos and video.
Yawn. So what else isn't new?
Somewhere in all this technological change, the owner of one of our most venerable broadcast television networks - NBC - has essentially declared the old model of broadcast television dead. As noted here earlier this month, top management of GE and its subsidiary NBC Universal (NBCU) have embraced the company's niche cable channels.
This fall NBC will reduce the number of week day hours of prime time available for scripted programming from three to two by assigning the 10 p.m. time slot to a Jay Leno televaudeville show, aligning its programming model more with Fox and The CW then ABC and CBS.
And at an April 8 Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications symposium exploring the pioneering work of executive producer and network television executive Fred Silverman, Silverman himself speculated that the networks will eventually give the 8 p.m. slot back to the affiliates to fill with local and syndicated programming tailored to the region they serve or, in he case of he less imaginative, reruns. (He also speculated on the end of network-provided daytime soap operas.)
GE through NBCU has also embraced the web for presenting professional TV productions and movies, most significantly its Hulu.com system developed in partnership with News Corp's Fox. (It is a system, not just a web site, as others can feed its content through their own web sites including most notably Comcast's Fancast site which is part of Comcast Interactive Media.)
According to a recent Business Week article, many expect Disney/ABC to take an equity stake in Hulu. In the meantime, in 2008 CBS Interactive bought the parent company of TV.com announcing in December that the site would add and emphasize an HD video gallery with full episode streams.
Now the media conglomerates are negotiating with the cable and satellite companies to create a model that allows access to on-line conglomerate produced video only if you are a subscriber to a cable/satellite package that contributes to the revenue stream supporting the cost of producing that video.
And the cable companies this year will be introducing "tru2way" enabled set-top boxes allowing subscribers to easily play games, browse the web, and chat, as well as stream on the bandwidth assigned to TV newer shows that aren't even on line.
Meanwhile, San Francisco Chronicle TV columnist Tim Goodman recently advocated "the Netflix solution", meaning that in these hard economic times folks should drop the premium channels at $150± a year each and selectively rent or buy series show box sets. And Goodman even suggests viewers may want to drop cable altogether.
What's a fan of scripted TV to do as these changes begin to snowball? The upcoming Summer Season will be discussed in the next post.