in Kulturkampf

Video is Dead

You’ll have noticed several blog entries here like this one:

Print is dead.

Long live the internet!

Now, it’s not that printing presses will go suddenly still tomorrow, with all information transmitted by electrons thereafter. No one is about to start a book-bonfire to keep warm, a la The Day After Tomorrow. Indeed, there are more books being sold than ever, and most newspapers are still at least marginally profitable. What has died, I would argue, is the business model of print; what amount of the print industry survives a decade from now will depend on new, internet-based models, just like With ten posts now sharing the ‘Print is Dead’ title, I think the trend is quite clear.

Which brings me to the next medium that will fall victim to the internet: video. And of all people, comedian Jimmy Kimmel may be marked by historians as the prophet of doom. Blogger Chez Pazienza, formerly of CNN, has the story:

Yesterday, in a seemingly career suicidal moment of honesty for himself — and a truly historic come-to-Jesus event for the business of network television itself — the host of ABC’s popular late-night talk show delivered a brutal and blistering comic attack on his network’s new fall season. It happened during ABC’s “Upfront” — the annual live presentation of a network’s fall prime-time lineup, including new shows and mid-season replacements, to the press and, more importantly, an audience full of potential advertisers and ad agencies.

Chez got the story from Dave Itzkoff at the New York Times, the poster-boy for Dead Print™. It’s like having a man on his deathbed tell you that his best friend has terminal cancer. Here’s how Itzkoff quotes Kimmel:

Then, in a “Jerry Maguire”-like moment of clarity, Mr. Kimmel said, “Everything you’re going to hear this week is” nonsense. “Let’s get real here. Let’s get Dr. Phil-real here. These new fall shows? We’re going to cancel about 90 percent of them. Maybe more.”


To the ABC advertisers, Mr. Kimmel said, “Every year we lie to you and every year you come back for more. You don’t need an upfront. You need therapy. We completely lie to you, and then you pass those lies onto your clients.”

Here’s Chez again:

The fact is that Jimmy Kimmel understands something that network executives are still refusing to grasp — or are simply fighting tooth and nail against. He gets that in our new hyper-connected culture, it’s beyond the realm of possibility to lie outright to an audience — and therefore it’s fucking stupid to even try.

What I find interesting, though, is that Kimmel’s attack is on content. He’s saying that his network should quit trying to fill the gaps with crummy reality shows and classic series remakes. Kimmel drew attention to one in particular: BJ and the Bear. Starring Ashton Kutcher. I only wish I was making that up. The fact that I can post a YouTube of the original 1984 show opening for that series speaks volumes about what’s wrong with the idea:

In 1992, I read an article by a professional TV and movie screenwriter (I wish I had kept the clipping) in which the author claimed that all the TV and movies we watched were created by a core of no more than 300 writers. This was the full number of people capable of finishing a decent script at the time. His case was pretty convincing, I recall. So if we are charitable and triple that number to, say, 1000 writers, then consider the proliferation of channels since 1992. At the time, there were probably no more than 50 cable channels in the entire country, and four networks. Today there are five networks and something like 500 channels. Do the math; there are fewer writers today per channel than there were in 1992.

Granted, television has always been a vast cultural wasteland. But now it has become much more vast and even more devoid of life. The lack of decent writers explains a lot about the number of so-called “reality shows” on TV, as they require more narration than scripting. It also explains why small teams of hacks are assembled to rework a used premise like BJ and the Bear: it’s a lot cheaper than hiring a good writer to work on an original premise.

I don’t mean to say that no show can ever be remade. (Indeed, I have made the case that some shows and movies need to be remade every 20 years or so.) But BJ and the Bear was a weak show to begin with, and sticking Kutcher in the title role won’t fix that. ABC is desperate enough to scrape the bottom of the ideas barrel, yet a great show like Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles almost always gets cancelled because good TV is expensive. With 500 channels competing, the content is neccesarily getting worse all the time.

The business model of television will be next to go. Like print, video’s business model was born in the industrial broadcasting age. That era is over; welcome to the Age of Hulu.

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  • kaolin fire

    Thanks for the link! Long live the internet! :) And print! ;)

    No thank you for the BJ and the Bear opening credits, though. Ouch!