We have crossed a milestone with this weekend's announcement that TiVo has entered into an agreement with the popular web show Rocketboom. Finally a model for independent television is upon us.
Right now the television shows are developed by a handful of trusted writer/producers in Hollywood who have become trusted enough to pitch there show ideas to the Networks. They've gained this trust by working on other television shows or by being incredibly success in another medium such as film, or books, or porn. If you're not one of these trusted people, the networks will not talk to you about your ideas.
These pitches are then considered by the network suits and a few are chosen to be turned into full fledged pilot scripts. These scripts are then read and fewer still are made into actual pilots and then the best pilots make it to air where most of them fail to generate the 8-15 million viewers required to stay on the air.
In the last year with maturity of mRSS and the wide dispersal of high-quality digital video production tools, video podcasting has exploded. For the new kids on the block, video podcasting allows programs like iTunes and FireAnt to automatically download video content. It's like signing up for a season pass on TiVo. Once you find a podcast you like, you can tell these programs to always download the newest content when it appears on the net.
That's the groundwork, and now with this TiVo deal you can add that same sort of functionality to your television set through TiVo.
Great. But how does that change anything? Well, it changes things because it gives TiVo an incentive to make other deals with indie producers so that they can distinguish themselves from the generic PVR boxes more and more cable and satellite providers are giving to their customers.
It also will allow for a model where indie producers will have incentive to create longer DVD-length pilots for their shows on the cheap. Why go to a big network that's just going to shit all over your idea when you can produce your own content the way you want it and then take it to the network when you have built a following through TiVo and iTunes. If you can prove your show is being watched by a million people, you're getting close to what the average viewership is on basic cable.
How will the producers make money? Subscribers, DVD sales, and small interactive ads for the people who don't subscribe. The subscribers is a simple extension of how people pay for cable today. ESPN gets around $2.50 out of your monthly cable bill to support it's programming. That works out to $30 a year and about eight cents for each day's Sports Center.
If you charge people $5 or $10 a year to subscribe to your entire archive and get extra content and early access to your new shows you should see a fairly sizable subscriber base (10%-ish). It's important to not that you still give away your content freely on the net and TiVo, but you just charge a reasonable fee for subscription and you treat your free customers with respect.
The market for DVDs is impressive. Sales of TV show DVD is very strong, and it costs under $2 to physically produce a DVD. Add the usual bevvy of special features and DVD only content and you should be able to sell enough discs to recoup your costs with a healthy profit.
Advertising. Again this should not be intrusive. But a simple ad at the end of your content will bring in enough money to fund the project and not be annoying to the viewers. And this ad would not appear on the subscriber's content, this would only be for your free viewers.
So that's where the money comes from, but where does the content come from?
On the indie film front, one of the most innovative companies in film is InDigEnt. They produce films for $150,000 where everyone on the crew gets paid $100 a day and then receives profit participation when the film sells. This is the model for how indie television should be made.
A typical network pilots costs in the millions of dollars, cable a little less. 15 indie pilots could be made for each network pilot. And the indie pilot would be a lot longer than a network pilot.
If you look at shows like the original BBC series The Office, the first season consists of six episodes, with a running time of around 170 minutes. The show did a second season and a few specials in Great Britain and was developed into a full fledged American sitcom too.
Indie Television would do the same thing. We'd create 90-120 minutes of original content that would be divided into weekly episodes. Episodes would be from 5-15 minutes, released weekly for 10-20 weeks and then sold as a DVD. Successful shows would have multiple seasons and have the possibility of moving up to a bigger network if the audience is there.
Projects would have budgets no larger than $150,000 for an entire season with everyone paid the same and have a share of the profits (the more involved you are the bigger the percentage). And the copyrights and intellectual property would be shared with the people putting up the money and the show creators (with the majority going to the creators).
The seasons themselves would serve as pilots for the networks. It would be instantly clear through downloads and DVD sales which shows were popular and striking a chord with audiences. Those shows would either move wholesale to the networks, or be redeveloped for the network. But the network would go in knowing that was an existing, interested audience.
A model like this will unclog the creative arteries of Hollywood. It would allow many flowers to bloom and let the shows with true potential find their audiences. It would also allow writers to take greater risks with experimenting with new forms of storytelling that are outside of the traditional four camera sitcom and single camera drama.
It could turn Television in the new millennium into what cinema was in the late 1960s and 1970s was -- a place for young and talented storytellers to flex their muscles and tell stories like they've never been told before.
Will a system like this produce high production value shows like Lost? Probably not, audiences will always love a big spectacles that only millions of dollars can produce. But sitcoms? Reality shows? This model will set those genres on their ears. If I see another fat husband/hot wife sitcom I'm going to fuck a goat.
Okay bad example, I'd fuck the goat anyway (that's just how I roll).
But the talent is out there and the tools are in there hands. All it takes now is someone with a little money and vision to really start doing it.