Last year at this time I raised a set of questions over where the TV medium would go by the time December 31 came around. Before offering new questions for 2018, let’s answer the ones presented in this space early last January.
Question then: What new capabilities will smart TV sets and device makers deploy throughout 2017?
Answer today: A wide variety of them. A trio of apps now allow people to order Uber rides, buy any Amazon merchandise they desire (if they are Amazon Prime customers) and order tickets for sports and entertainment events via StubHub. Dwarfing all that, with long-range implications to boot: incorporating Siri, Alexa, Google Assistant and other artificial intelligence-propelled voice tech into TV sets and other devices with screens, allowing users to command how they want to watch or use TV.
Question then: Will virtual reality become a TV attraction, working as an alternative to headgear and mobile devices?
Answer today: Not yet. You can thank the slower-than-expected pace of headgear sales and VR content availability for that.
Question then: As Netflix expands the number of original scripted series that are produced each year, how much of its competition will attempt to keep up?
Answer today: Amazon, Hulu, CBS All Access, the broadcast networks and many cable networks fired up the amount of original scripted shows they produce, with Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale drawing critical acclaim and an Emmy Award for Best Drama Series. Other cable channels, notably A&E, dropped out of the scripted scene.
Question then: Will any of the diversity projects that started last year deliver their first TV series this year?
Answer today: Sadly, no. But there was some good news. First, key TV/movie producers/showrunners of color received new long-term commitments for future work -- Shonda Rhimes at Netflix, Tyler Perry at Viacom (starting in 2009 after his Oprah Winfrey Network tenure wraps), Ava DuVernay at OWN (through Harpo Films) and Will Packer at Discovery Communications. Second, actresses of color from Kerry Washington and Viola Davis to Regina King and Gina Rodriguez formed their own production companies and set up their first projects.
Question then: Are any broadcast station owners willing to join Sinclair as original programming players?
Answer now: At least three. Fox produced multi-week trials of seven prospective series this summer, then launched two series in syndication coming off similar runs in 2016 -- Page Six TV (the top-rated new syndicated series so far this season) and Top 30. Tegna premiered three original series this fall, including a primetime talent competition and the ambitious Daily Blast Live!, going live in every market running it. Scripps purchased the Katz Broadcasting lineup of multicast channels, including Bounce TV, then launched a daily talk/lifestyle hour this past fall.
With those answers out in the open, here is this year’s crop of questions about where TV is going in the twelve months to come.
How will Paramount Network make out? Viacom is putting most of its scripted series resources behind this makeover of Spike that launches January 18 with a live Lip Sync Battle special. Out to be the next HBO, FX or Netflix, Viacom wants to make Paramount the centerpiece of its cable channels, drawing the widest audience of the bunch -- so much so that the company transferred the upcoming American Woman and Heathers from TV Land to Paramount’s first-half 2018 lineup.
Will Siri, Alexa and other AI features in smart TV sets/devices lead viewers into the land of interactive Oz at last? I have a hunch the answer will come our way sooner than later this year. Several interactive advertising ventures from Hulu, Connext and other sources are in play, giving viewers the option to order merchandise or learn more about it with their voice or their remote. Interactive storytelling, where viewers pick the direction of a storyline at various points of an episode is in the works from Eko and other ventures. Mosaic, available on Apple TV and overseen by maverick producer/director Steven Soderberg, goes one giant leap better by having viewers build a miniseries their way, through making the video and various plotlines available off the bat. Soderberg’s own Mosaic vision appears on HBO later this month, and he has said he will create two more miniseries in this fashion and invite other content makers to use Mosaic as an open source app.
Can Netflix maintain or expand its track record of new hit series this year (including Ozark, Mindhunter, GLOW, Godless, The Punisher, Dear White People, American Vandal and She’s Gotta Have It)? They have a fighting chance, given the range of new programming on their docket, from a Lost in Space revival to the first original TV series from the Coen brothers. Not to mention the streamer’s programming budget, now approaching $8 billion per year.
Can anyone match Netflix in presenting so many new quality series this year? You’ll definitely have some people trying, from Amazon Studios under new management to Hulu, coming off its Handmaid’s Tale mega-success. Keep your eye on YouTube Red, whose long-awaited debut of Step Up later this month may be the beginning of a new series blitz, as well as Facebook Watch, which with little attention is building up a portfolio of unique unscripted and scripted series. CBS All Access is hanging around as well with Star Trek: Discovery and The Good Fight earning solid viewership, and several new series (including the latest reboot of The Twilight Zone) awaiting their turn.
Will more diversity-expanding TV ventures surface this year and have an impact by year’s end? Two early possibilities are the Creative Threat Foundation formed last summer, involving a consortium of TV networks, production companies and advocacy groups, and Fusion Creative Board’s “open call” project where content makers can propose new series with or without connections to talent agents or agencies.
Do we see merger/acquisition deals involving TV makers go through or not? The answer could go either way in the respective matters of AT&T picking up Time Warner and The Walt Disney Company’s takeover of 21st Century-Fox’s scripted programming assets. It all depends on the mindset of the Justice Department. As for Sinclair assuming control of Tribune Media, it looks like that deal will pass regulatory muster with some concessions, despite increased furor from a variety of organizations.
How quickly will broadcasters implement ATSC 3.0 and what will their first direction be? Look for trials in a number of cities as early as late winter -- some under the oversight of station groups, others through consortium ventures. A dramatic surge in the number of multicast channels offered nationwide appears to be the first hand that broadcasters will deal to invite mass viewer adoption of ATSC 3.0. Personalized advertising and content fed directly to smart TVs and smartphones may be close behind.
What companies are worth watching on the content front? Annapura Television, Platform One Media, Wattpad Studios, First Look Media and all the ventures spotlighted here last January: IM Global, Critical Content, Anonymous Content, Skydance, Sonar, Legendary, Fremantle Media, Participant Media and Entertainment One.
What companies are worth watching on the tech front? Singular DTV (and other ventures exploring TV roles for blockchain and/or crypto currencies), Touchjet WAVE, Nvidia for its Shield TV-connected device, T-Mobile (after acquiring Layer3TV).
Until the next time, stay well and stay tuned!
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