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CULTURE ARTICLE

Racking Focus: What The HBO/CBS/ESPN News Really Means

The TV world was rocked last week by the news that major networks are creating online subscription services.

Editor’s note: We’re pleased to add that online-only subscription platforms are not just for television anymore! Click here to read about the Tribeca Short List, a new SVOD service from Tribeca Enterprises and Lionsgate that will launch in 2015.

It was only a matter of time, but nevertheless it has arrived with enormous, almost shocking weight: last week, HBO, and then CBS, announced that they are developing online-only subscription platforms for viewers of their content. ESPN announced a similar setup for NBA games. What does it all mean? 

It's only a matter of time until every TV network has their online-only division, and, likewise, it's only a matter of time until the majority of major web content producers are getting their work on TV as well.

Just last week, my entry in this column dealt with how the divide between TV and web content is becoming increasingly blurred, as evidenced by the news that Maker Studios, the leading online web content production company, is going to be providing content for the Fusion TV channel. This week the news goes in the opposite direction: TV networks that are adopting online-only subscription platforms. Once again, the writing really is on the wall: the division between TV and web video is simply in an extremely tenuous state, and it is only going to become more so as we see more and more networks adopt platforms like those that HBO/CBS/ESPN are developing. It's only a matter of time until every TV network has their online-only division, and, likewise, it's only a matter of time until the majority of major web content producers are getting their work on TV as well. 

What this seems to mean, ultimately, is a real boon for the American consumer. Rather than having to be tied to various TV cable packages or bundles, viewers will be able to pick and choose which content they are interested in viewing, and which content they'd rather cast aside. Filmmakers will win as well: as I wrote last week, it's a strong possibility that web series will increase in popularity as a means by which filmmakers can announce themselves as eligible for directing and creating TV, much as how short films and cheap indies were calling cards for filmmakers in the 90s. The short film as calling card is going increasingly extinct, since you can make a feature for as cheap as you can make a short these days, but the web series is taking the place of the short. 

Rather than having to be tied to various TV cable packages or bundles, viewers will be able to pick and choose which content they are interested in viewing, and which content they'd rather cast aside. 

With internet companies making content for TV, and TV networks allowing their content to be viewed over the internet, a total blurring of the lines of distinction between the realms is taking place, which means that ultimately we'll be left with a very different - and far more egalitarian - media landscape. TV will no longer hold the prestige dominance it currently enjoys over web content, and web content will no longer be viewed as a media-styled second-class citizen. We'll have an entertainment environment with far more options available, meaning that massive viewerships for specific networks will erode, and the media landscape will be more of a long-tail situation where lots of networks have a smaller but stabler amount of viewers. For filmmakers looking to make personal, intimate works that may not appeal to an enormous mainstream audience, it's definitely a winning proposition. 

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