So recently I was spending prime-time work hours watching videos at Will Ferrell and Adam McKay’s comedy site Funny or Die. All new stuff, all original, and a lot of it funnier and (really noticeable) of a higher professional quality than the funny stuff over on traditional broadcast TV. (Insert “Remember when SNL was good?” dead-horse-beating here.)
At one point I stopped and laughed — but not just at the latest video on my laptop screen. At myself. Rather, at the realization that these days when I want to “watch TV” I don’t go to my TV, but to my laptop or iPad. It’s a topic I’ll be getting into more in coming weeks. For right now, though, I’m thinking hard about how many new, Hollywood-level original shows are being created not for TV as we’ve known it since the primordial pre-Internet age, but for our exploding new age of alt-TV options that might soon threaten to make cable services as obsolete as rabbit ears.
With all the great video online now there are more entertainment choices than ever. Save videos to RealPlayer and use the playlist feature to create your own primetime line-up.
Our current “digital native” generation has never lived in a benighted world with only a handful of broadcast entertainment sources, or without video access across a variety of devices from HDTVs to tablets to the phones in their club pants.
And here’s the thing: they’ll never, ever want or need to imagine it any other way. It’s not just the Old World studios paying attention to that.
Companies we don’t automatically associate with new, original programs are now out to carve their own mountains in TV’s so-called vast wasteland. With producers looking to the web as largely virginal digital distribution territory, companies already plugged into the online world are positioning themselves to compete not just against the traditional Big Three broadcast networks in the U.S. — ABC, CBS, NBC — but also serious cable heavy-hitters such as HBO.
Tom Hanks’ “Electric City”
For instance, the long-time web stalwart Yahoo! has been maneuvering in the original programming arena since last year. The site has branched out with relatively low-profile stuff: some women-focused programs, celebrity gossip shows and short-form reality shows such as Morgan Spurlock’s “The Failure Club.” Now, however, keep your eye on the Y this spring for their first foray into scripted original programming. It’s the web series “Electric City,” an animated science fiction series co-produced by Tom Hanks, who will also lend his voice to a character (not, I assume, a puppet cowboy).
Interestingly, Yahoo! made the announcement at last month’s Consumer Electronics Show, which for me seals the deal that “Internet TV” is already moving well beyond the traditional ways of doing these things. Because we’ll be able to watch “Electric City” online and through tablet devices, the digital difference here will be the addition of interactivity and social media to a “TV experience.” Plus, it will be available in several languages such as Spanish and French, opening up online audiences even further.
Assuming even modest success for “Electric City,” I guarantee that it’s only the first in a whole new content realm for Yahoo! — and that other sites will be watching really, really closely.
The hugely popular online news aggregator Huffington Post (recently purchased by another longtime Web player, AOL) will soon merge video journalism with interactive social media. Starting this summer, the Huffington Post Streaming Network will launch with 12 hours of tablet-friendly streaming news video daily, eventually going to 16 hours a day with more than 30,000 video clips available to our screens in its first year.
Over at the licensed-streaming game-changer Hulu, two new original comedy series — “Battleground” and “Paul the Male Matchmaker” — are clearly angling to attract viewers who miss the faux-documentary, cringe-comedy stylings of “The Office.” Those shows are joining original documentary series by Morgan Spurlock and Richard Linklater and are original Hulu online TV content.
Meanwhile, Hulu’s arch-rival Netflix has already delivered the entire run of eight 50-minute episodes of “Lilyhammer,” starring Steve Van Zandt from “The Sopranos.” But the Netflix series that’s lifting my antennae way up is “House of Cards,” a 26-episode political thriller that will star Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright. David Fincher (The Social Network) will serve as Executive Producer and direct the pilot episode. Slated for a debut later this year, this show is the reason why the phrase “highly anticipated” exists.
Aaaaand, by this time next year Netflix will dish up new first-run episodes of “Arrested Development,” the Emmy-winning comedy. New episodes will feature the original cast of Arrested Development, including Jason Bateman, Michael Cera, and Jeffrey Tambor. Hey, there’s always money in the banana stand!
What are your experiences with this first wave of original online content? Any favorites yet? Where do you see this heading and what would you like to see?