The one thing that has become clear after all these years writing about television is that the way we watch TV continues to evolve.
It started decades ago with families grouped around a small TV screen in the living room watching programming on a handful of channels. That changed when cable launched and the number of options grew as fast as the size of the television screen. DVD boxed sets provided the next big change as TV viewers were no longer the slave to the weekly morsels fed out by networks or cable shows but could power watching an entire season in one setting.
The next step in TV’s evolution has come in the form of Internet offerings from providers such as Hulu, Netflix, Blip, TV One and StageVu. Many of these services once started out as a way to watch TV shows that have already aired but now the original programming continues to grow.
The biggest change in this new Internet world is evident by the way Netflix will be showing its series “House of Cards” that starts Feb. 1 and “Arrested Development” launching in a few months. There also will be a new comedy, “Derek,” from Ricky Gervais and the fantasy series “Hemlock Grove.”
Every episode in the season for these original shows will be made available immediately. This is a big change from DVD sets where a season of a series can be power watched over a weekend but the programming is not been made available until the full run of the season of a series has been completed. Instead of a family sitting around a TV set each week, each family member can watch this original programming on Netflix at the pace they want.
Ted Serandos, chief content officer at Netflix, grew up watching television in the traditional manner and believes TV is important because it’s a major source of entertainment.
“TV matters in our lives. It defines and shapes who we are. And it’s with that deep appreciation for the rich history of television that we are leading the next great wave of change in the media; not to destroy it, but quite the opposite, we are trying to help TV to evolve for the current generation and for generations to come,” says Serandos. “We are programming for the On Demand generation. They will tell us how many episodes they want to watch. They are going to tell us what time to watch them, and they are going to tell us what device they want to watch them on.”
These Internet offerings aren’t just low budget shows pieced together. Kevin Spacey stars in “House of Cards,” a series that rivals any big-budget movie in quality and scope. For performers like Rocky Gervais, the move to Netflix is the next step in changing the way TV programming is watched. He’s been a big advocate for the Internet for years including starting a podcast 10 years ago that have been downloaded 300 million times.
“We didn’t know what was going to happen. I did it for fun. I did it to be in a room with Karl Pilkington, and I wanted to put it out there. I just left the radio show because I was doing ‘The Office.’ And I loved doing the radio show, but I thought, ‘Now I can do it when I want.’ You can upload it. It was global, which is very exciting,” says Gervais. “The most exciting thing for me about the Internet is that it’s global. It’s your own reality that dictates what’s tasteful and what isn’t. So that excites me.”
TV watching is also changing from the standard 30-minute or one hour formats. Kelly Day, CEO of Blip Networks, says that the company’s strength comes in its new approach to programming that already includes “The Chris Gethard Show” and “Old Jews Telling Jokes.”
“These shows don’t fit into 22 or 44 minute formats. Most of them will never be distributed through a linear television network. In fact, much of the success of web originals is often attributed to the fact that it isn’t like traditional TV. It’s a lean forward experience that engages an audience in a way that linear TV, frankly, just can’t,” Day says. “But these series also touch audiences in much the same way that traditional TV always has, through hosts and characters that audiences love and identify with and through storytelling that makes you laugh until you want to cry.”
This approach attracts almost 25 million people every month through Blip.com available on mobile devices plus apps for iOS, Android, and Kindle devices and even Xbox.
Television watching continues to grow as the ways of watching switch away from the typical TV formats.