Traditional broadcast media has been bemoaning/fighting/fearing the internet’s takeover of their industry for as long as they have both existed. Through restrictive contracts and legal harassment among other tactics, television has done anything within its power to maintain the supremacy of the traditional broadcasters. There have been some misguided attempts to build bridges between the online and offline words – a primetime show based on a twitter feed is both a great example and an unambiguously bad idea – but these were more like peace offerings than a cohesive thrust to incorporate online media into traditional television brands.
The common complaint heard around Hollywood offices is that the broadcast companies are struggling to achieve viewership with their established shows online. TV ratings may be up, but that is not translating to unique views on a show’s respective website. This is because of the drastic democratization of media online.
Instead of fighting against all of YouTube’s FAIL videos for precious eyeballs with an already established hit, broadcasters should take a page from America’s pastime and use the online world as their farm league. Major League Baseball has a well defined system for scouting and building up prospective stars through their ranks. They’ve been at it for decades longer than television, so perhaps it is no surprise that they’ve got it figured out already.
Online video should be the “minor-leagues” of entertainment. Prospects first cut their teeth there, make their mistakes, and gain an audience that is worth developing. Guest-starring spots or short pieces included in major broadcasts would be the next step, and then, if the audience has grown and followed, a pilot on a network. This is not revolutionary, and is slightly happening now – although more in fits and starts than an organized path. What is more interesting is running in the reverse.
Once viewership starts to dip enough to warrant removal from coveted network time, rather than cancelling a show all-together why not cut the budget and push the show back down to the minor-leagues of online-only distribution? Ad revenue continues to come in, loyal fans are not so outraged that they create petitions (as we have seen so many times now for cult television shows) and these “veteran” shows can now train up-and-comers on the ins and outs of television.
Soap Operas One Life To Live and All My Children have recently taken this track, and it is the right move. The savy media executive will not fight new market dynamics, but incorporate them into their plans to better meet their customers’ desires. Those that are able to organize the disjointed online system into a viable pathway for content will reap major rewards in the coming years.