Syndication is dead. Long Live Digital.
By Chris Lumzer
Back before cable and satellite services dominated the subscription t.v. market most people got their television service via an antenna. With the big 3 nationwide channels (i.e. ABC, NBC, and CBS) (4 if you wish to include PBS) domineering the air ways with the only nation wide original content. Independent stations on the higher bands (uhf band with) though had their own content but it was not only localized but it was a small percentage of their content. Syndication back during these days meant you watch reruns of no longer running shows like “I love Lucy”, “the Brady Bunch” and “Gilligan’s Island”.
Roughly ten years into cable being more and more dominate and though a bulk of the uhf stations died off and those few that remained became the independent stations that many of us still enjoy. Though now some of those stations have become “fox” or “the cw” syndicates. But during this time (mid to late 1980’s) the only nationally syndicated show to be really known was “Star Trek: The Next Generation”. For the next decade (up to roughly 1995) many independent shows tried to take on the juggernaut that was “star trek” but with stations airing those shows late at night and not during prime time or during time slots with decent viewers most of those if not all of those shows didn’t make it past season 1.
At least until the dawn of the internet. When I mean dawn I mean the days of dial up connections to America online (AOL), EarthLink or if the area provided a local service. This lead to more and more people being online and thus the world as we knew it became smaller. With this “smaller world” people spoke of shows such as “Babylon 5”, “Buffy the vampire slayer”, “Hercules: the legendary journeys” amongst others. Due to the early days of the internet, and people in chat rooms and message boards posting messages about these shows, these shows that I mentioned not only had great ratings for being syndicated shows and lasting several seasons but became nation wide successes to boot.
With the dawn of the new millennium came 2 more networks “the wb” and “upn” (both merged to become “the cw” as mentioned above), and thus syndicated shows seemed to die off. Either that or a good many people in the entertainment industry dropped the ball.
Alas though with the bursting of the internet bubble back in roughly 2001 brought the seemingly death of independent syndicated shows it gave us something new:
The digital age.
This age and the wider spread of high speed access to the internet streaming services like Netflix https://signup.netflix.com/ (who started of with DVD rentals) saw a new market.
So being at present day and many streaming services out there besides Netflix, Hulu (http://www.hulu.com/ ) and Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/ ) could this be a new market for the independent show or movie maker and the syndicated market shine again? Christopher Kanotus states “For the first time television producers are not telling us what we, (as viewers) want it’s turned in to completely consumer driven culture. Netflix and Hulu have made programming available on an unprecedented level to where you can watch original programming by small indies or 30 year old entire series at your leisure”. Jay Leal of Skeleton crue (http://www.theskeletoncrue.com) seems to agree by saying “Netflix and Hulu have changed everything.” With more streaming sites on the internet like Crackle (http://www.crackle.com/ ) and now the vending machine DVD rental company Red Box (http://www.redbox.com/ ) streaming movies the fight for exclusive content to gain memberships can be said is now on. Let us not factor in that gaming consoles such as the now Sony Playstaion 4 and Microsoft’s Xbox one also carry apps from all the streaming services mentioned which makes accessing these services easier to the viewing public to watch on their television than their computers. Some might mention the tablet (i.e. apple’s ipad and Amazon’s kindle fire for example) can help make it easier to watch this new content on the go.
Is the new digital age the death of cable or satellite services? I don’t see that happening in the near future though many people are starting to “cut the cord” in this regard due to basic services starting at $40 a month and wind up being $60 or $80 because their service provider decided to raise rates “because they can”. This author will say due to this “new age” will there be a “digital bubble” maybe. Will there be fierce competition for who has what? I’ll have to say “yes.” And “it’ll be fun seeing what turns up.
It’s seems that I am forgetting something here in this blog though about the digital age being the new main stay in media. I due believe it’s the music industry and how sites like Pandora (http://www.pandora.com/) and iheart radio (http://www.iheart.com/ ) may and could have made an impact on the independent music scene.
As hinted at earlier in this blog the digital age brought forth many things regarding media. We’ve already talked about how it can and may have affected movies and television, but what about the music scene? I am not going into digital piracy here I didn’t touch on it earlier in regards to video so I won’t do it with audio.
With music the internet and the digital age has brought a possible new renaissance with it due to new bands being able to promote and use new tools to circumvent some aspects in the industry. Kanotus again explains it best by saying “Things like band camp have erased the 3 record deal that killed independent bands. Now bands can self-release their own music on a worldwide level for whatever price they want.” He goes on to say that “indies should capitalize on the freedom of the consumer driven culture before the main stream industries try and take it back”
Is he right? Good chance. With bands having their own websites they can offer everything from samples to free songs to help get the word out their band. Yes, social networks like twitter (https://twitter.com/ ) and facebook (https://www.facebook.com/) may get the word out but here is where companies like Pandora and Iheart radio can and possibly do come in to play. If these companies offer channels for independent music ranging from simple rock bands to metal, rap, punk and even geek rock new bands can be heard. Granted lake the dawn of podcasting years ago listeners may have to dig though loads of bands that are utterly horrible to find the bands that are either good to great.
Will this digital age benefit bands like it can the independent movie/ show maker? Yes. Where watching a movie on Netflix per say can lead to someone buying that independent filmmaker’s DVDs that might not be listed, the same can/ could be said for album sales, concerts and memorabilia. The next question that can be asked is “are we in a new golden age in regards to media?” On that I can only say: time and history will tell.
Please note that I did not include YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/ ) for either side due to the fact YouTube is not only a social network of sorts. It can also be used as a audio/ video spring board to see what works by creators. Though YouTube may and probably be a good spring board for those looking to refine their craft.