The web-olution will be televised
No longer the sole domain of cute kittens and dancing babies, household names like Jerry Springer and Steve Coogan are rewriting the future of television with web-only programming, writes PATRICK FREYNE
THEY HAVE the internet on computers now, as Homer Simpson once observed.
If you really wanted to blow Homer’s mind you could tell him that they have the internet on television now, too. And they have television on the internet... which you can then watch on television if you choose.
Television is changing. A new generation of viewers are watching in new ways that don’t necessarily involve traditional broadcasters. Some think programme makers will soon be able to bypass television channels entirely. This week saw the launch of Jerry Seinfeld’s first programme in 14 years, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, on the Sony-owned Crackle.com, and next month H+, the sci-fi serial produced by Bryan Singer, is debuting on YouTube in three- to six-minute instalments (it features Irish actress Caitriona Balfe as well as Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Alexis Denisof attempting an interesting Irish accent. It’s very good).
There have been other lower-budget propositions in the past, from the joyously silly Chad Vader, Day Shift Manager (Darth Vader’s brother working in a shop) to the ponderous Lonelygirl15 (in which the programme makers attempted to fool viewers that what they were watching was real). In 2008 Joss Whedon created Dr Horrible’s Sing-along Blog, a brilliant three-part musical web series featuring Neil Patrick Harris as a lovelorn supervillain. In 2010, Steve Coogan’s Alan Partridge featured in Mid-Morning Matters, a series of very funny segments sponsored by Fosters. More notably, this year it was announced that a new series of the formerly cancelled Arrested Development would be produced for Netflix. Television programmes don’t necessarily need television stations anymore.
“I think that what we define as television today is going to be very different in a few years,” says John Cabrera, cowriter of H+ (and also an actor you might recognise as Brian Fuller from Gilmore Girls). “More people will get smart televisions, and in a couple of years everyone will have remote controls with a YouTube button on them. At that point YouTube will come up on the television as quickly as ABC or HBO. If YouTube has plenty of premium content people will watch that in the same way they watch Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad. Television and web are merging. We’ve been talking about that for a decade, but the main differences between now and five years ago is that we can finally watch YouTube from our couches.”
This clearly has implications for the industry. “The internet has massively changed how much content is available and domestic broadcasters are no longer the only broadcasters we have access to,” says Hilary Perkins, head of digital development at Channel 4. “But it’s a myth to say nobody is watching TV. They’re watching as much if not more, just not necessarily on a TV set. They might be watching it on 4oD on their phones or downloading programmes that aren’t necessarily housed on a television station, but they’re watching.”