Seth Shapiro\'s Business Innovation Blog

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“What is the most important thing that has happened in the TV industry in the past decade?”

The overarching one is this huge shift from a linear environment to a nonlinear place. The movement from ‘appointment TV’ to random access TV. You can watch as little or as much as you want anywhere, anytime and on any device. This influences the limits imposed by business rules tremendously.

Most TV business models percolated first in the US, where we had a number of small broadcast networks followed by cable in the nineties. But you still had to be there to watch the show. The constraints to when you consume TV started to change with the DVD box set, DVR and this change coincides with the HBO era and ‘The Sopranos’. The change in how audiences were able to watch TV, on demand, allowed the stories and narratives to change from the old days of TV, when it was designed to watch stand alone.

Before these technological changes, people might see only 7 or 8 episodes of a 20 episode season. DVR and Netflix changed this; you could count on the fact that your audience could see each episode.

The business part of it changed the creative part of it, because you didn’t have to miss an episode and you could watch in any order. Audiences can now watch on demand and consecutively, opening the door to a different kind of storytelling. Dickens is the original architect of this type of narrative, he got you to buy another magazine to get the next episode. Great examples of this are shows such as 24 and LOST, which were only possible because creators of the show knew their viewers could catch up and watch each episode.

TV now becomes the dominant art form of our time, creating huge multi-year canvases. I talk about this in my book, TELEVISION — The Story of the World’s Most Powerful Medium

“What do you think will be the most important thing to happen in/to the TV industry in the next decade?”

The downward pressure on the existing cable model, mostly in the US is going to greatly influence the TV landscape in the next decade. 90 million households are paying for a cable package of which they only watch a certain number of channels. AMC is a great example of how the cable model worked well, having made millions from the cable networks they were able to create shows like Breaking Bad and Mad Men, shows that belong in the Top 10 shows of all time. They had the money to create this immensely successful and quality TV.

“What is going to happen when the cable network subscriber realizes they have the choice to not opt-in to a cable subscription?”

To watch more shows a la carte. If the cable network model starts to decline, will the networks move to Netflix or other subscriber channels?

The other big question, as a new generation comes up that has grown up on YouTube and online content, will they become part of the traditional TV group or not? Will they purchase multi-channel packages when they are 20?

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In 2015, the most frequent question we heard was, “how do the economics of OTT work?” 

In 2016, the most popular question was, “is the hype around VR justified?” When we answered “yes,” the inevitable next question was, “what VR projects should I look at first?”

We’re updating our 2016 White Paper now; it will be ready in April. Till then, here’s a subjective list of ten places to start, with links to each.

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Studio: Penrose Studios

Dir. Eugene Chung

“Six degrees of freedom is huge. It adds so much to what we call ‘presence,’ which in many ways is the holy grail of virtual reality. How do we move and think in this medium? Allumette is about thinking natively in virtual reality.”

—Eugene Chung


Allumette brings viewers into a magical city in the clouds — Dr. Seuss meets Cirque de Soleil. We wind through its street, following a little girl named Allumette and her mother.  The navigation-driven story uses the power of room-scale VR beautifully. Allumette elevates the platform with one of the first truly original cinematic VR experiences.

To see a 2D clip, click here

Available from: Viveport, Steam, Oculus Store



Studio: Within

Directors: Gabo Arora, Chris Milk

 “By leveraging breakthrough technologies such as virtual reality, we can create solidarity with those who are normally excluded and overlooked, amplifying their voices and explaining their situations.” 

—Gabo Arora 

The groundbreaking Clouds Over Sidra was one of the first projects to prove VR’s power as an “ultimate empathy machine,” and a potential agent of social change. Sidra brings viewers into the world of a 12-year old girl named Sidra, who guides the audience through her temporary home: the Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan. 

Sidra helped UNICEF double its donation rate; after one screening, the UN’s Humanitarian Pledging Conference in Kuwait raised $3.8 billion—nearly twice the projected revenues.

To see a 2D clip, click here 

Available from: Within app, YouTube 360


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Article originally appeared in Seth’s column at the New York Observer.

In 1970s America, the initials MTM meant three things: actress Mary Tyler Moore; the show she starred in; and the company she and her husband Grant Tinker founded.

All three changed American life, but the third did so for decades, reinventing popular culture and turning the small screen into the dominant art form of its time.

In syndication, The Mary Tyler Moore Show inspired of a new generation of performers and writers. Oprah Winfrey said the show was “a light in my life, and Mary was a trailblazer for my generation. She’s the reason I wanted my own production company.” When Moore gave Oprah a version of Mary’s iconic wooden “M”— a golden “O” — Winfrey became speechless, then burst into tears.

Moore was the most significant actress of her era. The woman who refused Gloria Steinem’s invitation to join the feminist movement broke down more barriers for women artists and characters than any other American of her time.  When asked how she wanted to be remembered, she said: “As somebody who always looked for the truth, even if it wasn’t funny.”

In 1998, Entertainment Weekly named The Mary Tyler Moore Show the best TV show of all time.

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This article originally appeared in Forbes.

In an interview with Billboard Magazine earlier this month, Grammy host James Corden got candid about his paycheck. “Oh, I can tell you something I envy about all of them: their salary. That’s the only thing I envy,” the comedian and host of The Late Late Show said of his fellow late-night hosts.

No one does this for money. He’s not in the first tier in terms of name recognition, so to get his face in front of people who may not be familiar with is very extremely valuable,” says Seth Shapiro, a consultant at New Amsterdam Media and professor at the University of Southern California. Plus, Shapiro adds, when your boss is Les Moonves and he asks you to host the Grammys, “It’s kind of an offer you can’t refuse.”

If Corden makes an impression as a host, he may win over new viewers or those who currently watch his competitor, Seth Meyers. Consistently higher viewership and ratings mean that advertisers will be willing to shell out more money for spots during his show, making him more valuable to the network—and making it easier to renegotiate a higher contract.

“The Grammys are an extremely highly penetrated social media event, and so a guy adept at doing short form has a great chance of breaking out,” says Shapiro. “The more buzz he gets, the more of an opportunity it is to get new people into his franchise,” Shapiro says.

Read the full article here.

This article originally appeared in Forbes

Seth Shapiro, a governor for the Television Academy, describes two traditional late night philosophies: that of Johnny Carson and that of Jon Stewart. Carson stayed away from partisanship, leaving viewers guessing as to what side of the aisle he was on and making jabs that mirrored public opinion.

“Once Carson started joking about Watergate, Nixon was completely doomed because that deathblow came from the public, not from being partisan,” Shapiro says.

Fallon and Kimmel tend to stick with this school of late night, as is expected from their shows, which focus just as much on pop culture as politics. “It’s what The Tonight Showhas always been,” says Shapiro, adding that this goes back to the show’s decision to name Jay Leno host, rather than the more niche and partisan David Letterman. “If Trump succeeds as the populist president, NBC and ABC don’t want to be caught out.”

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This article originally appeared in TubeFilter.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” wrote George Santayana. And yet digital media’s headlong boom suggests that too few are paying attention to the hard-won experiences that built the behemoth known as TV, even as the newcomers try to replace it.

My look back, and forward, this week was occasioned by the arrival of Seth Shapiro’s first volume of his ambitious history, Television: Innovation, Disruption and the World’s Most Powerful MediumVolume 1 is focused on the creation of the broadcast network industry. In it are plenty of seeds worth planting in any entrepreneur’s head as this new medium develops.

I’ve known Seth quite a while. A digital media consultant with two Emmys, he’s a member of the TV Academy Board of Governors and has long been active on the academy’s Interactive Media Peer Group. He’s had a front-row seat on the industry’s transformations, a position that leads him to suggest that entrepreneurs should heed the lessons that built first the broadcast industry and then cable TV into businesses worth many tens of billions of dollars for decades. Among those lessons:


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This article originally appeared in CNBC.

“If you take the Beachbody model, there is probably a good analogy to Netflix,” noted Seth Shapiro, a digital media analyst and principal at New Amsterdam Media LLC. “Netflix began the same way that Beachbody has become a $200 million business in the consumption of fixed media, DVD sales, but increasingly over time you’re going to see more and more content shift from fixed media to online content, and so it’s likely that more and more of the stuff would be available on demand on any device at any time, and probably that’s the direction that Beachbody will have to go.”

“Increasingly what you’ll see is as more and more of the over- the-top services proliferate and become a default standard, all the barriers were broken down by Netflix and Hulu adoption rates,” said Shapiro. “You’ll see online services going after the niches that cable hasn’t dominated, and anything that requires personalization leads. Fitness is perfect, but obviously it’s really crowded.”


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I’m super excited to be launching my first book, Television: Innovation, Disruption and the World’s Most Powerful Medium this coming Saturday, March 12 at SXSW, at 5PM in Austin Convention Center Room 10AB.

Every day brings another article on the disruption of television; how the stodgy idiot box is finally being forced to evolve by Netflix and Amazon. That sounds nice, but it’s inaccurate. The truth is that TV has been disrupted non-stop from the beginning. Lucy and Desi disrupted CBS by giving birth to syndication. John Malone and cable disrupted everyone. When CNN aired on-the-ground footage of Iraq, Ted Turner disrupted the news business. ESPN disrupted Monday Night Football and broadcast sports. Fox disrupted the oligopoly of the Big 3. HBO eroded the TV commercial, then DVR, VOD and Netflix punched it in the throat. YouTube has disrupted cable by putting up shows that you otherwise have to pay for, for free.

Why all the contortions? Because TV matters, and there’s been an epic series of dogfights to control it since it began.

I started writing Television as a single volume, but there was so much to cover, it became clear it needed to be a series.

Volume 1 of Television begins in 1900, when the idea of “remote seeing” is still a far-flung dream proposed by geniuses and charlatans. The book chronicles how forward-thinking entrepreneurs and artists harnessed technology to create television, which exploded into the world’s most powerful medium. We follow the half-century blood feud between CBS, NBC and ABC, and learn from innovators who pushed the artistic and economic boundaries of the medium including Jackie Gleason, Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Rod Serling, Jack Kennedy, Johnny Carson, Norman Lear, Fred Silverman and Mary Tyler Moore.

I’ll be reading three excerpts on the book at SXSW – stories that show just how much the early days of television resemble the era we find ourselves in now.

As a thank you for coming out, everyone who comes to the signing line will receive the e-book version of TELEVISION – for free!

Hope to see you there!

If you’ve been in my class at USC, you know that I have a lot of theories.

Two of the oldest:
1. That on the passing of Paul McCartney, there will be universal acknowledgement that Lennon/McCartney are the most influential authors in the English language, along with Shakespeare. And as civilization moves further from text and towards screen-delivered sound and vision in the next few generations, the Beatles will supplant Shakespeare.

2.That some time after his death, it will become clear that David Bowie was the greatest individual artist of the second half of the 20th century.

That idea is being tested way too soon.

Bowie provided no warning that he was so close to death. In fact, his last great artistic achievement may have been the gap in the way his album Blackstar was received when it came out on January 8 – as a brilliant but enigmatic return to form – and then completely reappraised 48 hours later when the truth became obvious: that Blackstar was Bowie, saying goodbye.

So much has been said that I’ll keep this brief.

Between 1970 and 1980, David Bowie recorded a staggering 14 albums – at least 10 of which are absolute masterpieces (Hunky Dory, Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, Diamond Dogs, Young Americans, Station to Station, Low, “Heroes”, Lodger and Scary Monsters) . Most of these albums either defined or reinvented whole genres – from glam to techno, punk to New Romantic. By comparison, the Beatles recorded their entire catalog of 13 albums in 7 years… and there were four of them.

There is simply no one other than The Beatles who can match Bowie’s impact on pop music in his decade; the only other artista with this kind of track record are other transcendent greats: Picasso, Matisse, Hitchcock and Fassbinder.

And this is without counting the Broadway triumph of The Elephant Man, the shock of the new of The Man Who Fell to Earth, and the seismic influence on fashion, sexual personae and identity that ran throughout his career.

To understand how completely Bowie transformed English culture, see his 1972 explosion on British TV here. To see the genius of his process, watch this. To understand why we loved him, watch his final bow with Ricky Gervais here.

Thank you, Mr. Jones.

We’ve finished V 2.0 of our VR/AR White Paper. As we’ve said previously, we think Virtual, Mixed and Augmented Reality represent the next generation of truly transformational content experiences.

We started this paper as a class project, and then decided to throw it open to the community at large – who have helped make it a much better document all around. We really appreciate all the great suggestions that have come in.

The VR/AR White paper includes:

  • A table listing 200 leading companies in the space (Section 6)
  • Interviews with industry leaders Aaron Koblin, Grant Anderson, Ted Schilowitz and Xin Chung (Sections 15-18)
  • Completely updated information on the major current and upcoming product launches (Sections 19-29)

Click here to get the VR/AR white paper

Photo credit: Maurizio Pesce on Flickr

Tech disruption has accelerated to become what I call Industrial Darwinism. Digital technology companies are displacing, and often destroying, the market leaders that once seemed invulnerable.

  • The world’s biggest taxi company owns no cars (Uber)
  • The world’s biggest media company creates no media (Facebook)
  • The world’s largest accommodations company has no real estate (Airbnb)
  • The world’s largest retailer has no inventory (Amazon)

How did this happen? The stories behind these disruptions are amazing. To share them, we’ve produced a series of short case studies on digital innovation.

The first three case studies in the series tell how:

  • Netflix, a tiny startup, destroyed $8.5 billion behemoth Blockbuster
  • Amazon reinvented retail and surpassed Walmart’s market cap in just 2 decades
  • Apple crushed Blackberry and Nokia with a product consumers didn’t even know they wanted

Click here to get the case studies

Two weeks ago, we looked at the prospects for YouTube’s new subscription service, YouTube Red. Since then, bearish stories have arisen from both YouTube creators and media outlets including ESPN. On November 6, No. 1 YouTube star PewDiePie reported his reason for supporting Red: the rising use of ad blockers—which YouTube believes has jumped from around 15 percent to 40 percent in the past five years.

In other words—to adjust to consumers’ frustration with ads—YouTube wants to add subscription revenue to their current model of ad revenue.

The irony is thick.

Where TV Money Comes From

As YouTube came to power from 2005-7, the TV ad business was being slapped by the growth of DVR and beginning of VOD. It might not have mattered if there were still no alternative to TV ads—but now advertisers had the glimmer of a choice: they could start to, very slowly, move ad dollars online.

TV felt the fear of lost revenue, but had a massive buffer: the 80s and 90s explosion of subscription revenue.

Here’s how that works, in brief:

  1. You pay a distributor (Comcast, DIRECTV, etc.) a monthly fee for TV service
  2. That distributor pays a piece of that fee to each network you receive
  3. For small networks like Nick 2, that fee might be two cents a month; at the top end, for ESPN, that fee might be $5.54 a month – currently over $70 per household per year (2013 license fees, per SNL Kagan)

YouTube hasn’t gotten a limb into the subscription money sluice… until now. That’s why it created YouTube Red. And while YouTube’s total ad revenue has been climbing, its revenue per ad has been falling.

So what did YouTube do? They added more ads! Just like on TV.

Alas, there’s a problem: the more ads people are forced to sit through, the more likely they are to install ad blockers (see here and here for background).

So what do ad blockers remind us of? That’s right…DVRs! Second verse, same as the first.

So in brief: YouTube, the engine so many predicted would decimate TV (here, here here, etc.) is now at the mercy of the same problems.

So as YouTube works to make Red worth paying for, what should they do?

They should study the last broadcast network team to re-invent the network.

1. E.R.: The Rise of Attention Television

By the early 90s, the Big Three broadcast nets were under assault. Cable and FOX were destroying a 40-year oligopoly—and no one felt the pressure more than NBC. Seinfeld was a breakthrough—a major break from the family and workplace comedies of the past. Mad About You, Frasier and Friends made NBC the home of modern comedy—but in drama, the network had lots of ground to cover.

In 1993, Jurassic Park was a box office monster. When Steven Spielberg asked Michael Crichton to write a sequel, Crichton demurred: instead, he had another script he wanted to get made, based on his time as a med student in Boston.

At NBC, Warren Littlefield read Crichton’s 20-year-old script with dismay: “it was about 180 pages, and it was all over the place. It probably had over a hundred characters.” But there was something there: the doctors were human. They were real. But there was a lot of work to do for the script to be ready for primetime.

Click to read more: The New York Observer.