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Left Coast / Right Coast: The Future of Television

Since the widespread implementation of the Internet many of the things that have been in our lives for 50 years or longer are undergoing a radical change. Television is one of them. I was a kid when wide scale nationwide television became a reality. I recall our first TV set.
Mike Gold living the dream in the Pacific Northwest. Photo credit: Scott Brown.

By Mike Gold, a retired entrepreneur "living the dream in the Pacific Northwest."

Since the widespread implementation of the Internet many of the things that have been in our lives for 50 years or longer are undergoing a radical change. Television is one of them.

I was a kid when wide scale nationwide television became a reality.  I recall our first TV set. It was in a massive wooden box, probably four feet high and two feet wide and deep with a small black and white nine inch diagonal screen.

It had those so-called rabbit ears antenna which sat on top of the TV. Since the antenna was inside one’s home, you would often have to adjust the antenna to get the best reception for each network – which depended upon where the transmission originated from.

In those days programming (or content – a key word as we shall see) was limited to three major television networks, NBC, CBS and ABC. In those days the content was in many cases developed by the networks themselves. So, you would see lots of news programs, lots of documentaries, and some TV series.

You would also see movies on these networks. In those cases, the network would make a deal with the movie studios (such as Paramount, Universal, MGM - Metro Goldwyn Mayer, Warner Brothers and others) to broadcast an existing movie either a single time, or sometimes multiple times.

The movie studios would develop the movies with a script written in most cases by writers who had contracts with the studio and would be filmed in a studio owned by the company. To this day these studios are in many cases still in existence.

Over time, thousands of individuals would write and submit movie scripts to the studios with the hope of making a large one-time sale or better still, sign a contract with the studio to write more than one major film.

Back in those days, dirty words were not used in major movies and especially in movies that the studio expected to be seen later on TV. Comedian George Carlin was famous for his routine about these seven prohibited dirty words.

Now let’s jump to the very recent past (say the late 1990’s). Companies figured out that they could create a cable service broadcast on a separate dedicated wire – for a monthly fee. That gave many more opportunities for content to be developed for sale.

The number of scripts submitted to movie companies and outlines for TV series multiplied by the thousands. We saw the rise of independent production companies in the hundreds. Famous movie stars would often create their own production companies so they could have complete control of the career path of that star.

Now with the rise of the Internet, and Google and their Internet service YouTube, anyone can create and post their own original content for viewing.

Frankly, near 100% of the postings are very poorly constructed. Unsubstantial plot lines, poor character development, sometimes none of that at all. (If you want to see a video of someone brushing their teeth, picking their nose and/or doing just about any disgusting thing you can imagine – just tune in YouTube.) In fact, today over 500 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute!

So, what to do? Well, in our entrepreneurial society, that is an opportunity. Hence, we have streaming services created basically by Netflix who invented the genre. They made “deals” to broadcast on the internet the content from just about everyone.

Well guess what? All the larger “owners/creators” of content (think Disney), or just about anyone else interested in this market (think Amazon), are now entering the distribution streaming service business.

Netflix has a problem in that all their original deals for content owned by someone else are choosing not to renew with Netflix. Each company thinks they can capture a significant percentage of this multi-billion-dollar business.

For those companies who do not have an extensive library of content, they have started their own studios – often in the very movie studios that were owned by the former giant independent studios listed above. So, Netflix and Amazon are now developing billions of dollars creating original content every year. Disney has just started a streaming service and on and on it goes.

Many of my friends have cancelled their cable service. For the public airwaves network TV stations, they have gone back to an in-house antenna. For TV series or movie content, they subscribe to one or more relatively inexpensive streaming services. Most of them are around $10/month or so.

Here’s what I predict. Many streaming services will go broke. The revenue will not match the cost of either licensing or producing their own content. In addition, you will see the rise of independent production/streaming services that will develop a “cult” following making inexpensive films with cheap handheld cameras and no-name stars (think the Blair Witch Project).

So, if we follow this path, we will eventually see a movie on a streaming service (probably broadcast at 3:00 am to an audience of 300) called: “How I came to love picking my nose.”

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