Are the Networks programming themselves out of existence?

About a week ago, I took my son to our first fan convention, Walker Stalker Con, in Orlando.

Many, many stars of AMC’s The Walking Dead were in attendance.  Also at the event were several stars from AMC’s Breaking Bad and Lost, participating in panels.  I had a question for the Lost group, but the line was long and I was way too comfortable in my seat.  Rewarded as I listened to their discussion, my question was answered and leads to my topic today.

Lost is a case in point. It is a smart, creative show with a complex mythology that developed organically over the course of the series.  Running from 2004 through 2010, it ended in an “organized demise” at the behest of ABC. This decision was made mid-run, and executed over 3 reduced seasons.  Each season was delivered with no guarantee of the next, and with these constraints, the series was not given the opportunity that it should have to satisfy all fans.  Even so, the show had great talent, holds up and continues to have a huge fan-base, with some still striving for more meaning, even now.

That was just 5 years ago, and the digital day has since dawned.  We have become an immediate “gratification nation” of watchers.  We want quality on our own time, in bulk, and without incessant commercials about cars, cleaning products, or pharmaceuticals. There’s lots of junk out there, and consumers are weary of paying providers for content they don’t watch.  This boosts demand for streaming choices; Netflix, Amazon Prime, HuluHBO Now, and Showtime Anytime, are just the bigger guns.   A number of people in my immediate circle have dumped cable and are going to streaming altogether from a variety of sources.

Streaming platforms, aka “streamers”, are having great success attracting subscribers by offering original or fresh quality content, including the resurrection of previous network castaways, like Lost.    Networks, once the sole providers, are also are now rebooting their own previously abandoned series like the upcoming Untitled X-Files Revival in limited run, and Heroes Reborn. Seems quite contradictory, right? It will be interesting to see how the networks deliver on these reboots, though it’s looking more of a ratings grabbing ploy, than any real shift or trend.

Are the networks making poor choices by cutting good shows?  It is certainly not due to lack of supply. TV is the absolute king of quality right now, when compared to what’s playing in theaters. AMC, FX and USA come to the party with less sponsors and budget, yet deliver on both critical and ratings success for their reach. Streamers gobble these shows up too because their subscriber metrics identify all that is binge-worthy.  This acquisition model, rather than ratings, has moved streamers to get into content development as the Networks are no longer providing an adequate inventory of bingable, serialized dramas.

Networks will find it more challenging to hook and retain on-demand viewers over an entire season when they can just wait and catch up on the whole deal in a matter of days online.  I tend to DVR and create a binge queue of broadcast shows myself, which allows me to focus without trying to keep up on everything at once. (Of course this defeats the sponsors’ purpose which is to force me to watch the commercials real-time.)  Even though it’s available online, AMC has the right idea and often reruns the entire Walking Dead series in succession. This promotes to new viewers, and starved fans, who can effectively binge and catch up and also generates buzz for the new season. It builds the show’s fan base, but more importantly, provides an engaged audience to promote upcoming series, like the companion show Fear the Walking Dead.  Brilliant!!  But… that is “cable”.  I can’t see ABC successfully running 11 seasons of Grey’s Anatomy back to back, can you? But, you can watch it on Netflix.

At minimum, the Networks have to understand that they are no longer the only game in town and viewing habits have evolved from the 1950’s.  This seems to call for some serious reinvention for the digital age.  Can solely streaming platforms be successful independently without feeding off the networks, and if so, for how long?  I do know that I cannot afford to subscribe to broadcast and 20 different platforms, and especially when there is so much duplication in delivered online content. If they are smart, we should expect to see that issue clean itself up over time as contracts run out, and alliances between production and streamers boost exclusivity and generate demand. Given that the fittest survive, we may see streaming platforms merge, or at least align, to deliver mega catalogues in a one-stop-shop approach.

It will be interesting to see what this landscape looks like 5 years from now as this continues to heat up.

Are you wondering about my question for the panel, that spurred all of this? Here it is…

If the opportunity presented itself and Netflix, Amazon or Hulu came calling, would [the actors] be open to bringing Lost back around for a fresh take?

From what I heard, that answer would be a resounding “yes”!  Some of them said it outright:  they would love the chance to return to “The Island”, even for one more season.  They all shared great fondness for the show, and the chance to be part of something mystical and meaningful to so many.  They especially loved the back-story character development that revealed the light and dark facets of each character.

So, do you hear that J.J. Abrams?  How about you, Netflix?!  Any takers?

Your turn:  Would you like to see new episodes of Lost, or should a great show be left alone?

UpdatedSeptember 2, 2015: Related article from The Washington Post released 8/31/2015 Netflix just ditched a big contract. It’s time to rethink your streaming services.

Updated – August 8, 2015Related article from following the Television Critics Association press tour 2015 – FX Networks Chief John Landgraf: ‘There Is Simply Too Much Television’ 


 Personal photo taken at Walker Stalker Con; June 27, 2015

Cast of Lost

[Panel attendees, L to R: Harold Perrineau, “Michael”Elizabeth Mitchell, “Juliet”Henry Ian Cusick, “Desmond”Mira Furlan, “Danielle”, and Nestor Carbonell, “Richard”]

Next post:  Will we survive this “summer of sequels”?!

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