“The context in which makes possible an underlying
sense of the way it all fits together
despite our collective tendency not to conceive of it as such”
– The Books, “Smells Like Content”
I was with a friend the other night, and he was talking about how amazing and varied the programming on “television” was these days. That day, in fact, he had just finished watching an entire season of some program or another, Breaking Bad I think, in one sitting. He said something to the effect of, isn’t it incredible, it feels like the golden age of television is happening right now in front of us.
We started talking about why this was the case, why one could describe this as the golden age of television. Why writers, actors, producers, seemed to be flocking to the television medium? Are better writers writing for tv? Are better actors choosing tv over film? Maybe, but maybe also it’s none of this.
Instead, perhaps such amazing content is being driven by the context available to these creators.
What’s changed in the last few years for television is both the delivery mechanism and the format. By that I mean that new technologies and tools have afforded television peeps the opportunity to start producing content that is both (a) episodic and (b) could be consumed in binges. In other words, through the proliferation of niche channels, streaming video, DVR, torrents, television producers were able to create content that people could stay with – have a relationship with – for a long time, even years. Or, more simply just watch a whole series in one setting. Or both.
As Casey Pugh of VHX told me the other day, maybe “TV shows are just essentially really, really long movies. Stories that require more than 90 minutes to explain to build characters, create settings, etc. It seems like it would be a dream for any writer to write a TV show over a movie.”
The change in context, then, created the change in content. Moreover, a change in context necessarily creates a change in content types, forms and formats.
Traditional distribution forces content to be designed a very specific way. But in a digital world, there is no industry standard. There is now flexibility for a creator to make their exact vision and give it to people the way they want. With complete control, creators then have the ability to create entirely new mediums.
Suppose the current creative television environment is in fact more like what many consider the golden era of film of the 1970s — driven by stories, small first runs that can grow into big national word of mouth as the primary driver for attention, not advertising. The Internet enables all these structures and behaviors at epic scale.
For example, with a network such as VHX, to name just one (yea, we have invested in it, sure), a creator or filmmaker can, in minutes, create a web site and sell or give away or whatever they want, their content in whatever format they want with whatever frequency they want. With network level tools and data to allow for creative packaging, packages, and offers. Complete. Control. And in doing so, have a 1:1 relationship with people who care about their stuff.
Last Friday at Brooklyn Beta I saw Tim O’Reilly give an incredible presentation where he talked about the history of the Internet and some universal principles that arise from that history. One section of his talk was about language, the words we use. He quoted Edwin Schlossberg:
“The skill of writing is to create a context in which other people can think.”
Which got me thinking, the same principles also apply elsewhere. Just as in television, maybe right now the context for all of film has changed. The content, therefore, also will change, and already is.
The golden age of film may be about to start.