The Future of TV, if we're lucky

Kit Sublett breaks down the potential upheaval in the TV industry.

Most of you will not know the name Reed Hastings but almost all of you are familiar with his creation:Netflix.

recent article at GQ.com got me to thinking about what Mr. Hastings is up to.

First, a little background. In addition to providing streaming recent movies and old TV shows, Netflix has gotten into the creation of fresh content. Starting tomorrow there will be a new series called “House of Cards,” starring Academy Award winner Kevin Spacey. Later this spring they will start streaming a final, all-new season of cult-favorite “Arrested Development.” They have several other series in the works as well.

Interestingly, part of their strategy is to release all the shows of a single season at once. In other words, if you have longed for “Arrested Development” for the six years since Fox cancelled it, you can binge on all fourteen new episodes the same night they are released on Netflix. (This is the same as people have done with DVDs and current Netflix content. Watching entire seasons of “Lost” or “Friday Night Lights” has become increasingly common. The difference is that this will be the first time you can do it with brand-new content.)

In addition to market-leader Netflix, 800-pound gorilla Amazon is spending big bucks in the same way. Through its Amazon Studios they will soon be producing and releasing streaming content.

Some thoughts on these developments:

1. One of the things that could really be in Netflix/Amazon's favor on original content creation would be their ability to give more freedom to content producers.

Louis CK, a comedian I have only heard about but who has apparently enjoyed wild success, is the prime example of this. A while back he took the bull by the horns and decided to cut out the various middlemen in the creative process and released his content solely via his website.

By removing most of the middlemen in the process, he has had complete creative control, offered it for cheaper to the masses, and made tons of money -- more money, I think, than otherwise.

2. Netflix and Amazon bring to the table built-in traffic and brand awareness. This is very important. You’re not guaranteed a hit if you write a book for my little outfit Whitecaps Media, but if it was promoted by Netflix/Amazon, it's off to the races!

3. Old model: content creators working for the studios, networks distributing the content, with lots of middlemen in-between the two.

New model: content creators, Amazon/Netflix, no middlemen. Way less friction.

4. The GQ article asked if "bingeing" on new shows, as opposed to watching them week-to-week as the television model has always required, will be able to sustain an audience. My thought: books have already proven this.

Charles Dickens wrote most of his books as serials -- analogous to the current TV model where you enjoy one episode at a time. But the serialization of novels did not last forever. Certainly by the time "Gone With the Wind" came out in the 1930s books had no problem reaching gargantuan audiences even though they were no longer serialized.

What might happen with TV is that its model will be analogous to Robert Jordan, J. K. Rowling or other authors who write serial work: a book/TV series comes out and its fans "binge" on it, devouring it in a few (or a single) sittings, then that is followed by a period of waiting as the creators create more content. Rinse. Repeat.

Well, that’s all I’ve got to say about that. It’s a brave new world we’re living in, ain’t it?

Follow Kit on Twitter.

Check out his publishing company, Whitecaps Media.