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Is the future of television another article about the future of television?

Around TCA season, we always get inundated with articles related to “the future of television” or “the end of online streaming”.

It’s always funny to read these wannabe prescient articles about the rise and fall of television. Especially since they’re always reverberating the same thought over and over, year after year.

As usual, we had the one about how “live TV will be irrelevant in the future“. There’s also that other one about Netflix producing–wait for it–a bunch of original shows. Whodathunkit.
Let’s also not forget the obligatory “Netflix: Is this the end of online streaming as we know it?” versus “The future of television? HBO.

And then there’s the palme de la creme de la cherry on the top.
That one article desperately wanting to coin (and crown) a “new art form” within a sub-subset of a television trend.

This year’s winner: “Netflix is accidentally inventing a new art form — not quite TV and not quite film“.

Oh, boy.

Let’s take a glance at the article’s h3 points…

1. Binge watching versus weekly watching: It changes everything

How is this news in 2015?
Nearly six years ago (!) I wrote about that exact same thing.
You know, when House of Cards was but a twinkle in Ted Sarandos’ eye.

My point is not to back-pat myself (that sounded dirty); it is to explain that, hell no, Netflix did not create an “art form” (ugh) that predates it.

Just because you make it “easier” to do something doesn’t mean you “accidentally invent” that something.

Ford did not invent transportation.
Apple did not invent mobile communications.
Netflix did not invent binge-watching (or, as we used to call it in the good old days, TV marathons).

Hold on. Something else is coming back to me…

I remember… I remember watching X-Files episodes back-to-back on VHS in the 90s.


2. Netflix thinks more in terms of seasons than of episodes


Should I really bother talking, yet again, about the concept of “bigger picture” in television?
ABC renewed Lost for three seasons in 2007.
We can all move on now.

3. But the 10-hour story is still a new craft — and an imperfect one

And film is in its infancy compared to literature.

Truth is “10-hour stories” are older than American Idol.

Ever heard of a show called Roots? Or HBO’s Band of Brothers? Or Sci-Fi’s Taken?
I hadn’t, and then I googled “mini-series”.

“Mini-series”, “limited series”, “event series”, “anthology seasons”. Call them what you want. It’s all semantics.
Roots and True Detective are, at the end of the day, close-ended 8-hour narratives.

But then, you tell me, this isn’t about anthology seasons. It’s about shorter seasons!
And, once again, I’ll point you to a distant post from the distant past.

The year was 2008.

Here are nine ideas to save television“, I bravely claimed. And one was about shorter seasons:

Remember Dirty Sexy Money? Probably not, because it only had 13 episodes last season.
But that’s okay.
Less is definitely more when it comes to shows like Lost. A radically shorter season definitely helped the show to condense its mythology and get on with the answers instead of waiting around for 5 other episodes.
It might not be that good for the Big Five in terms of cash but in a qualitative way, it’s certainly a game-changer.

Now, combine shorter seasons with 55-minute long shows around the year available for free whenever wherever on VOD.
Welcome to the new world, Networks.


Look. I understand the temptation to be right about “the future of television” or the desperation to be the first to “call” something. We’re all guilty of this. But if you really want to do that, at least have something new to say.
Why are you shocked HBO is going into sports (“Inside the NFL” anyone?) or that Netflix is doing–gasp!–original programming.

We all know Ted Sarandos’ provocative statement about how Netflix’s goal “is to become HBO faster than HBO can become us.”
That was three years ago.

And this brings us full-circle to the reason of this entire post–or rant.
Maybe I needed to air my frustration about TV circlejerking.
Maybe I needed to point out how ridiculously narrow these echo chambers have become.
Or, maybe, I needed to quote this actual statement about HBO Now and Netflix:

If, as The Awl’s John Hermann argues, “the next Internet is TV,” then subscription-based streaming services are the next Facebook.

I thought orange was the new black? Wait, what is this again?
Oh. Now I remember.
It’s not TV, it’s articles about TV.

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