It’s almost impossible to recall a time when there wasn’t television channels that numbered into the thousands, but for many people who grew up with cable television the idea of having less than a dozen channels is a concept as foreign as a rotary phone.
But that generation will probably also recall that early stabs at internet video were shaky. Slower internet speeds made video quality and resolution size major issues. But now that a huge number of homes have cable modems or faster connections — many of which are provided by the television cable companies themselves alongside cable TV service — streaming digital quality have made those problems a distant memory.
So now that the internet can easily be used to stream movies and episodes of television series, many companies are skipping the middleman of television and going directly online with their content. These not only benefit the consumer — more choices! — but also actors and creators — more work!
For example, Netflix’s House of Cards, a series that was exclusive to the movie streaming service, has received generally positive reviews and Netflix CEO Reed Hastings has called the series a “great success.” The service is preparing a new season of Arrested Development for its users, many of whom probably signed on just to watch the return of the cult Fox sitcom that was canceled in 2006.
It’s a massive boom for actors and creators, who no longer have to be at the whim of television networks and scheduling. Arrested Development star Jeffrey Tambor is not only starring in the revival of his former series but also appears in the pilot of the Amazon.com series The Onion Presents: The News. Tabor says that regarding producing a show for television versus producing a show for online, “There’s absolutely no difference.”
The pilot was shot like a traditional series, shooting on the set of the real-life news channel NY1 (broadcast television shows that have shot on that set include Gossip Girl, Damages, and The Good Wife). Another big name starring in the pilot is Cheyenne Jackson, who has appeared on Broadway and on 30 Rock and Glee. For Jackson it was the only pilot he shot for this upcoming season even though his manager was nervous about its chances. He explains that when she called she said, “It’s online. We have to talk about this,” but he notes that she had a similar tone in her voice when she first talked to him about 30 Rock.
Nevertheless, there remains some uncertainty. He points out, “This is kind of a leap of faith. We’re all taking a leap together.”
While finding such shows on varied online and streaming platforms isn’t as simple as channel surfing, Christopher Long, the head of DirecTV’s original programming division believes word-of-mouth and social media will help promote the shows. He says, “Our opinion is, if we build good enough television, people will find it.”
That is a challenge faced by production company Prospect Park, which is reviving the soaps All My Children and One Life to Live, which were canceled by ABC in 2011 as web series. The company is gambling that the shows will be able to be found by the traditionally older-skewing soaps audiences who may not be as technologically savvy as their younger counterparts.
Then again, once grandma is finding shows to watch on the internet, we’ll know all this is actually working!