The Internet TV takeover is transforming how content is created too

The wave of disruption coming to Hollywood is bringing game-changing opportunity as well. The news about Netflix financing and distributing Brad Pitt’s War Machine is just the latest example of the seismic shifts we are seeing.

The Interview comes to mind as a film we can already look to that was compelled make the most of the Internet.

“The best thing to come out of this is the realization that smaller movies can have a tremendous benefit from day-and-date release,” assessed Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst with the movie and TV industry measurement service Rentrak. “In the virtual world, you can go nationwide, even worldwide, with your release in an instant.”

To be clear, The Interview is an accidental and imperfect case study. It’s not hyperbolic though to see that model and say that many smaller movies and TV shows can similarly reap benefits online.

In the era of social media, where what we watch is so often determined by what our friends Like, it is only natural that we should be able to press play within a matter of clicks. This is especially the case for content that is not a tentpole epic in which an IMAX 3D screen or even a TV set mark an irrevocable difference from a personal tablet or mobile phone screen.

Pacific Crest Securities released an analysis on the future of TV towards these ends. Point blank: the Internet has “finally become a legitimate distribution alternative for professional content.” An alternative that has benefits as well.

The pay-TV industry and linear TV at large are confronting how “the Internet enables superior personalization, broader distribution and faster product development.” Netflix CEO Reed Hastings recently described the impacts of these changes on the future of non-linear television:

Hastings isn’t just talking about the method by which television-style content is delivered — he’s talking about a change in the way that content is created as well, and that has the potential to be far more transformative for the TV industry.
In many ways, this transformation is more like what has happened to print content — meaning newspapers and magazines — than it is like the music business, if only because a song as the atomic unit of audio entertainment hasn’t changed that much. But for text and video, the disruption is all about breaking down traditional formats and packages like “newspapers” and “TV shows” and either atomizing or re-making them in a different way.

Early signs of these changes can be seen in shows like House Of Cards that are designed to be binge watched. This kind of content is comparable to movies broken into chunks, and is very different from traditional TV shows with individual episodes meant to be fully enjoyable in isolation.

Another fascinating example of the transformation of content before us is Marvel and Netflix joining forces. The recently released Daredevil is one of four different series in a deal that “reimagines a dream team of self-sacrificing, heroic characters,” culminating in a miniseries event called The Defenders.

“This serialized epic expands the narrative possibilities of on-demand television and gives fans the flexibility to immerse themselves how and when they want in what’s sure to be a thrilling and engaging adventure,” said Alan Fine, President of Marvel Entertainment

The structure of an Internet TV show gives Marvel vastly more time and flexibility to develop these characters, introduce them to a worldwide audience, and establish them in the broader Marvel Cinematic Universe. As Jeph Loeb, Daredevil Executive Producer and the Head of Marvel Television, explained:

“You know, when we decided to do these characters, part of what made it exciting for us is that, you know, the Avengers characters are in the motion pictures and [Marvel President Kevin Feige] and his group do it better than anybody else. They’re just these awe inspiring, giant, epic adventures that at the end of the day have a very strong, heroic element to it. But those characters are here to save the universe. What we wanted to be able to do was just move over a few blocks and down a few avenues and there’s an area called Hell’s Kitchen which is very different than the world of Tony Stark. Instead, we could have heroes that were street level heroes that were there to save the neighborhood.”

Internet TV allows Marvel to drill down to a neighborhood level of storytelling that feeds into the broader universe they have established through big budget movies and ABC’s The Shield broadcast TV program.

The beauty of it is that maybe some of these characters flop. But maybe at least one of them becomes a massive hit in Marvel films, with the benefit of years of character development and fan awareness through Netflix. Or maybe it’s a combination where the Internet TV shows act as an A/B test indicating subtle changes that must be made. Or maybe Marvel discovers the hero (or villain) is disproportionately popular in China or wherever else and adjusts marketing plans moving forward.

It’s a new model using the lower levels of investment and the wider reach of Internet TV to the fullest. Liam Boluk touched on this dynamic in his piece 7 Deadly Sins: Where Hollywood is Wrong about the Future of TV.

Historically, the TV business has been an end in and of itself, but as Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe has demonstrated, video can also play a far more lucrative role: establishing or supporting a broader storytelling platform. In fact, many digital-first content companies already depend on brand extensions (e.g. events and apparel) to make video ends meet.

The way we watch video across the board will never be the same. It will be quite an exciting ride for the entertainment industry to respond in kind, and for Hollywood to evolve accordingly!

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