Five months ago, I wrote that sci-fi tech will kill science fiction TV, basically arguing that since you can't put a product plug for Pepsi in an episode of Battlestar Galactica,
combined with the fact that TiVo is going to kill the notion of
commercials, mainstream science fiction TV will be dead in 20 years. I
should probably amend that to new
science fiction TV will be dead, because video on demand will keep
existing copies of every kind of TV show—sci-fi or
otherwise—available for consumption from here to eternity. Some future
amalgamation of the video iPod and TV.com will see to that.
What I didn't forsee—and what makes me a poor futurist—is the death of the network television studio. Adam Sternbergh wrote this piece for New York
magazine, which suggests that on-demand services are going to cut outthe middle-man between TV consumers and producers. Imagine ransom TV,
wherein a writer/director/producer commits to create a movie or
television season based on a minimum order commitment from fans.
With enough preorders in place, the producer could create the show or
film without ever shopping it to a network or movie studio—the
underwriters who approve pilots and movies "on spec" in the hopes
they'll make their money back—sidestepping all the idiotic executive
interference Hollywood is known for and creating a true audience-centered
product. In the ransom scenario, the producer could just borrow against
his contracted preorders, create the show with a built-in profit
margin, and distribute it via DVD or download without ever involving a
network or studio.
The downside? The producer has to create buzz for a product that
doesn't exist (Sternbergh uses the example of a second season of Joss
but that's a product continuation, not a
product launch), which could lead to some rather perverse
audience-courting tactics, and would tend to be a high bar to cross for
rookie creators. Moreover, an ever-dwindling cult of fanatical fans
could keep an icnreasingly cheapskate version of a show on the air long
after it's lost its mainstream appeal and artisitic integrity—imagine
a 17th season of The X-Files—so
long as as the reflexive preorders keep rolling in. Essentially, the
only people who could make ransom TV
work are already a part of the studio system, so it won't exactly
democratize the medium in the near term, and almost certainly won't
come to pass for aesthetic purposes. Still, if it brings me a
second season of Firefly, I'm not sure I care.
Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger — amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can also follow him on his personal blog.