Other Ten Percent 12/8/11

Dec 08 2011

Down to the Wire.

——-On Media——-
So here’s a quick discussion question: how long do you think we have until television is dead? Because honestly I’d say 5-10 years but that’s essentially what I would have said 5-10 years ago so what the fuck do I know? I mean it’s clear TV is dying but obviously these dates are essentially arbitrary. CBS, much like modern Republican political philosophy, is not likely to die until most old people do and that’s another 10 years off at least. But it’s looking like NBC (and the democratic party?) don’t have nearly that long.

This is probably a good topic to use to revive that debate format I never actually got around to making. Let’s say the debaters are Ivan and…fuck I’m not actually sure what side Ivan will come down on. Lets say the other side of the debate here is me.

Anyway the point is that a kind of insane thing happened today (sorry this is so late) and Louis CK decided that his next comedy special would be broadcast exclusively online.

I know that in a year where Netflix has acquired a wealth of original programming including a new season of Arrested Development that may not seem like much but to me it’s a much more significant development in the death of television and here’s why:

TV revenue is increasingly dependent on on demand programming. There’s a great joke Gabe from Penny Arcade did years ago that explains this situation. He’d just read Scott McCloud’s intelligent but ultimately naive book on comics in the internet age TK. This book suggested that the future of webcomics was an idea called micropayments where each webcomic viewer paid a few cents to keep the webcomics author afloat. This is essentially the business model used by television. Every viewer of network TV counts for only a few cents of an advertising dollar but in terms of millions of viewers the company is fine with that.

Gabe’s rather accurate quasi-joke is something along the lines of “Micropayments are all well and good but I have a better strategy and that strategy is called Macropayments. In this model viewers pay me enough money to live off of and I live off of that.” This joke of course oversimplifies matters. Not everybody that reads Penny Arcade makes the macropayment (usually based off of buying merchandise at a significant mark-up that keeps the Penny Arcade guys afloat. Still, as a payment scheme “pay a decent amount to keep the few things you really care about afloat” seems far more reasonable than “hope 6 million people also give a shit about the same things you like so a network can make money trying to get companies to pay them to pitch you products.

Louis CK is essentially working out the macropayments plan of comedy. And much like Joss Whedon (who Hollywood has successfully waylaid by just rolling wheelbarrows of cash attached to nerd-dream movie project contracts) did with Dr. Horrible that plan will prove wildly successful.

The point here is that we’re moving into a phase where video works off of a Bruce Sterling model. Everything is either the Gothic High Tech (generous term for a 100ish year old technology) of television that’s making decent but ever decreasing money as it waits to die or the Favela Chic of internet video as random people get rich but other people toil in obsucrity waiting to make shit happen.

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