Did Traditional Television Commit Suicide?

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After sleeping on it over the weekend, I can’t help but think that traditional television has committed suicide, and doesn’t know it yet.

In the traditional television model, a producer puts together a television show and sells it to a TV network. Occasionally, the process works the other way around, but for the most part, someone pitches a TV show and then a network either picks up the show and gives it a spot in the lineup, or the show dies.

Television Follows Music Industry to Doom

Television Commits SuicideRecently, however, that model has come under attack. It is still early, but television as it exists today is finished. It will take several years to play out completely, but the television stations and cable systems who once held control (and made all the money) are finished, they just don’t realize it.

Hulu recently created and began distributing its own television show called Battleground. Netflix, likewise, has created a program called Lilyhammer. And, word around Silicon Valley is that both Google and Amazon are close behind.

The reason all of these technology companies are getting into the original programming realm is because the cable systems and television companies have forced them to. It simply is more cost effective to make your own television programs. The high (and rising) prices charged by media companies for rights to stream their programs are only part of the cost. Once the rights have been acquired, there are all manner of restrictions upon how, where and when those programs can be shown.

For example, movie companies force their films off of Netflix when they are being shown during the month on a cable TV channel that bought different rights. Your average Netflix subscriber isn’t an expert on program licensing. To them, it seems that Netflix is an unreliable source of movies. All of this occurs AFTER the studios force Neflix to wait and increasingly long period of time before they are even able to show their films.

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Television networks aren’t much better. CBS famously forbids its programs to be shown on Hulu at all, causing users to think of the service as only a partial option. Even shows that are allowed on Hulu come with restrictions ranging from delays in when they can be aired online, to how long they can remain online.

The rise of devices like iPads, Kindle Fire and even Barnes and Noble Nook, show that consumers aren’t interested in only sitting in front of their living room television to watch their entertainment. Yet, traditional television producers give them nothing but the run around in order to watch their shows.

Add all of it up, and getting traditional programming from the networks costs too much. The only solution is to create your own programming that you can show immediately, with no restrictions, reliably and for as long as people want to see it. If any one of these companies tastes even moderate success with their own programming, you can be sure that the growth of these shows will proliferate quickly. The death blow will come when Google, who has been stymied by traditional television (and Hulu, but at the orders of their TV masters) gets into the content game, buying up television shows and documentaries that can be shown without restriction on a Google TV. That may comes sooner rather than later with the technology giant looking for a way to gain a foothold before Apple TV launches and entrenches as the multimedia distribution leader like it is for music.

This stop, delay, complain business strategy worked out terribly for the music industry. One can only wonder why both the film industry and the television and cable industry insist on running the same losing playbook. One chapter will be significantly different. The television industry won’t be able to complain that piracy is causing all of their problems when the programs that are destroying them are actually original works produced by other, savvier, corporations.

Soon, it may be the traditional media outlets paying the online content providers to ensure that their shows get equal billing and availability, and the likes of CBS will be complaining that Hulu promotes its own shows over those from other networks.

And, they’ll have no one to blame but themselves.

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