Growing up, my father often complained about the rising cost of our cable subscription. The bills got higher, the number of stations increased, yet the amount of television we watched rarely changed. The ‘value-added’ networks didn’t add much value. As the number of networks increased the actual worth of television only seemed to decrease.
Much has changed. The amount of content—the word that has replaced ‘art’ and ‘creation’ in recent years—is staggering, leaving an unfathomable amount of unwatchable television in the queue. Yet many have claimed this to be a ‘golden era of television.’ It’s hard to disagree.
While the administrative bureaucracies behind major movie studios take fewer risks, cable TV studios, many now free from the burden of bundling, are pushing boundaries. Shows like HBO’s ‘The Young Pope’ and ‘The Leftovers,’ the BBC’s ‘Peaky Blinders’ and ‘Sherlock,’ and Hulu’s ‘The Path’ take chances only found in independent movies.
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Is Your Life Really Yours? How ‘The Attention Merchants’ Got Inside Our Heads
Author, The Attention Merchants
As consumer watching habits shift and producers rush in to fill their needs, the question of creative value has been a constant. The NY Times’ Farhad Manjoo, for one, believes the expanding opportunities offered by the digital revolution are saving culture, pushing art forward in interesting, new multi-disciplinary platforms. Manjoo thinks today is “the beginning of a remarkable renaissance in art and culture.”
“In just about every cultural medium, whether movies or music or books or the visual arts, digital technology is letting in new voices, creating new formats for exploration, and allowing fans and other creators to participate in a glorious remixing of the work. This isn’t new; from blogs to podcasts to YouTube, the last 20 years have been marked by a succession of formats that have led to ever-lower barriers for new and off-the-wall creators.”
There is truth to this, though Manjoo comes off as overoptimistic regarding the number of success stories. He points to a handful of Patreon phenoms who are earning their living as independent creators thanks to monthly subscribers. The technology exists and they have taken advantage of it—a certain benefit for those working from the ground up. The problem of rising to the top of the tens of thousands of Patreon users remains, however.
Which is a different scenario than the cable bundling model. In the old days (the eighties, in my case) small networks were able to exist thanks to behemoths like HBO, Showtime, and Cinemax. This model still works for networks like ESPN, which gets six to seven dollars for every subscription, the highest paid network today. Their success allows smaller players to stay in the game.
ESPN provides a…
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