Seth Shapiro\'s Business Innovation Blog

On October 28, YouTube launched its long-discussed subscription service, YouTube Red. Priced at $9.99—the same monthly price as Netflix—the service features ad-free videos from a few of YouTube’s biggest stars including Lilly Singh, Toby Turner, the Fine Bros, and especially PewDiePie (who has now delivered over 10 billion views, and reportedly earned $12 million last year). The launch offering will include a combination of around a dozen series and a few long-form pieces.

To put this in perspective: YouTube now receives 300 hours of uploads every minute. That’s 18,000 full days of video added every day. Once an American pastime, YouTube has become a global powerhouse, localized in over 60 countries and over 60 languages.

YouTube is ubiquitous, but it’s always been free—more a free utility than a pay video network. Getting people to subscribe to another service is always a brutal task—so Red has a big mountain to climb. What should they do to prepare for it?

They should study the last great era of broadcasting, and a team that faced many of the same problems—and won.

NBC, 1990: “ Number Four in a Three-way Race”

In 1990, Warren Littlefield stared down the barrel of a gun. He had landed the job he had always wanted: he was President of NBC Entertainment. But he had gotten the job in a very mean season.

NBC’s glory days were ending. Former hits Cosby, L.A. Law and Golden Girls had all faded. As Littlefield told me in an interview this summer:

We were sitting there and it’s probably realistic to say, well, L.A. Law and Hill Street Blues had a nice run…but maybe those best years are behind us, and maybe network television is not quite what it used to be.

Littlefield still had one great hitter in the lineup: ratings powerhouse Cheers. Then he got a call from series star Ted Danson: “This is my last season on Cheers. I’m not coming back.” So Littlefield took over the #1 network of the 80s with almost no cards in his hand…

Click to read more: The New York Observer.

The TV story of the week has been the kickoff of the 2016 election cycle, beginning with last week’s Republican Primary debates, starring Donald Trump.

Televised presidential debates occupy a major place in television history, and have become a critical component of American politics. So first, we’ll unpack the stats around last week’s event. Then we’ll look at the debate that created the genre.

The FOX Primary Debate

Last week’s debate was the most-viewed event in the history of FOX News, with 24 million viewers. That’s roughly 30% higher the season finale of Empire, double The Voice’s best 2015 ratings, and about 800% more viewers Jon Stewart’s final The Daily Show. That’s pretty big – though not as big as Trump’s The Apprentice Season 1 finale, which had 28 million viewers – which is the under-reported key to this success.

The driver of these ratings, as Vox correctly notes, is Trump’s years of experience in the medium itself. But his antecedent here is not Richard Hatch – it’s the man who put debates on the map in the first place.

To that point, this is not a big rating in terms of presidential debates, with which it has been wrongly compared. In 1980, Reagan/Carter had over 80 million viewers. Obama/Romney had over 67 million viewers. And in terms of influence, they’re all dwarfed by the one that came first, the one that reinvented American presidential politics.

Rest of story… the New York Observer.

This article orginally appeared in The New York Obsever

Every day brings another article on the disruption of television; how the stodgy idiot box is finally being forced to evolve by Netflix and YouTube. That sounds nice, but it’s inaccurate.

The truth is that TV has been disrupted and reinvented every decade or so. Think about it: Is TV a four-network medium, from an antenna on your roof, powered by a tube?

No. Once television was all of these things. Now, it’s none of them.

Here are a few disruptions: Lucy and Desi disrupted CBS and NBC 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.

Like it or not, television is the most influential medium in history. No product has spread so far and so fast, commanded so much influence and capital, so affected how the world sees itself. The shows we watch say something about us, about what we think and who we are.

When future anthropologists study Earth 1950–2020, they will look at what we looked at: television.

In this column, we’ll go behind the scenes to look at how the TV business works—at the people who run it, the technology that shapes it, the business models that drive it and the artists who harness it. We’ll cover the brutal war that led to the birth of TV, the creation of the major networks, the rise of cable, the content renaissance of the past few decades, the explosion of Netflix, YouTube, Hulu and Amazon Studios, and the future of online content.

Rather than writing recaps of shows you already saw, we’ll talk about how and why those shows got made in the first place.

Along the way, we’ll see eerie parallels between the birth of television and what’s happening now, as the future of broadband becomes a key determinant of every medium’s prospects. Because most of what’s about to happen has happened before. That’s because media has always been a dance between creativity, technology, economics and cultural timing.

Want to know where online video will go? Look at the life cycles of print, TV and radio. They were controlled by all the same factors. What happened before will happen again.

Television Is the New Novel

Television has always been a whipping boy. A former FCC Commissioner famously called it a “vast wasteland”; successive public figures have called it much worse. Novels are real art, though nobody reads them; the Academy Awards are the height of cultural celebration, though almost no one sees those films. Familiarity breeds contempt.

Steven Bochco (Hill Street Blues, L.A. Law, NYPD Blue), summed it up: “It’s always been fashionable to say at cocktail parties,‘I never watch TV.’ That’s nonsense. Everybody watches TV.”

TV is the medium of our times, as the novel once was and the movies once were.

Yet TV continues to get a bad rap.

Perhaps it’s because for the same reason a fish doesn’t appreciate water: they have never known a reality without it. For any American under 80, like it or not, TV has been our cultural lingua franca. Even those who don’t watch television live in a world dominated by it. We don’t know what television means; we can’t, for the same reason we can’t look at our own eyes.

But artists pushing the boundaries of other media have recognized TV’s unique power for years.

Towards the end of his life, even Norman Mailer said, “People want more information than you can get from most novels…something like The Sopranos…I don’t think the Great American Novel can be written anymore…the notion of a wide canvas may be moving to television.”

Since then, television has surpassed cinema and the novel as the high art of our time. LA Times critic Mary McNamara said of Breaking Bad, “Television isn’t just the new film, it’s the new novel.”

Fifty years ago, movies were the home of characters and ideas. TV was the down-market grotto of The Beverly Hillbillies and Gilligan’s Island. But in the past 15 years, the two have switched places.

Pixels, anyone? Would you rather go to the movies or watch Transparent or Black Mirror?

Oscar winner Julianne Moore speaks for many film actors: “Movie studios [are] in the superhero business. Material for television is much, much stronger for actors now.” Jeff Daniels says, “TV now is what indie film used to be.”

That’s why MoMA had an eight-day retrospective of The Sopranos, and why Slate (rightfully) compared The Wire to Dickens.

I recently spoke with Terry Winter, executive producer of The Sopranos, creator of Boardwalk Empire and Academy Award nominee for The Wolf of Wall Street. He said:

I was flying on a plane recently, glancing up from my seat, and there was a movie playing on the screen. I wasn’t wearing headphones. At the end of the movie, I could’ve told you the entire plot. I didn’t have to hear a line of dialogue, because the dialogue was superfluous. For me, the much better work is being done on TV.

And even when TV shows sucked, it was television that brought down Joe McCarthy and Richard Nixon.

Disrupting the Vietnam War is not nothing. Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 is nothing.

There is much good to say about this business of TV. It’s not perfect, but it’s the story of our times.

Television is so money — it just doesn’t know it yet.

From the Australian Financial Review:

Australia’s three local video streaming players need to be careful not to mirror Netflix’s successful business model if they are to survive in an increasingly crowded market, a Hollywood media adviser says.

Seth Shapiro, an interactive media governor for the Emmy Awards and an adviser to entertainment giants including Disney, Comcast and Universal, said the Australian market would struggle to sustain all streaming operators.
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Variety reports:

The Television Academy has named five industry leaders to its executive committee, chairman Bruce Rosenblum announced Thursday. The five appointees are Bela Bajaria, exec VP of Universal Television; David Nevins, president of Showtime Networks; Roy Price, head of Amazon Studios;Kevin Reilly, president and chief creative officer of TBS and TNT; and Rick Rosen, board member and head of the television department at William Morris Endeavor…
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The hack of Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE) has grown into a national Rorschach test,  a yardstick for all that’s ailing America: isolated corporate leaders, bankrupt celebrity culture, media manipulation and the threat of foreign aggression. A quick chronology:

#1: The Scandal.

The very unfortunate emails of some SPE execs were leaked in one of the earlier document releases. If you follow me on Facebook, you’ve seen my opinion on this.
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The following article Amy Fontinelle appeared in Investopedia on September 24, 2014.


If you want to enjoy movies and television shows when you feel like watching them and not when they’re playing in theaters or being broadcast over the airwaves, there are more than a handful of services to choose from. In this article, we’ll take a look at four of the biggest names in on-demand home entertainment, what each has to offer and how likely these companies are to succeed.
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Highway Robbery

I recently drove from LA to San Diego and back twice, at night.  I took a road I’ve driven maybe six times, CA-73.

CA-73 used to have tollbooths. Weirdly, they were gone.

A few weeks later, I received the letter above. The tollbooths were gone, but the tolls were still in force.  It turns out that now, you have to log onto a site and pay them. But you have to know that you need to do it. If not (courtesy of a license plate camera) you receive a fine of $57.50. You read correctly: $57.50 on a $5 toll. Here’s an article that outlines the terms.
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I’m very honored to be returning to the Board of Governors of the Television Academy for the next two years – with so many friends, and two of my TV heroes: Terry Winter of The Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire, and Lily Tomlin.

Thank you so much to all my friends in the Interactive Media Peer Group for making this possible with your votes… I’m very grateful…

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