Content Wars: Spring 2013
Spring is on the way, and new content deals and original shows are popping up everywhere we look. Here are a few of the highlights:
Amazon struck a deal to expand their content agreement with CBS, which adds several more series, including the Showtime series “United States of Tara,” to the Amazon Prime catalog. The deal also includes in-season access to Stephen King’s “Under the Dome” on CBS this summer, with episodes scheduled to hit Amazon Prime 4 days after air.
This means Amazon is shifting its Prime model to include current season streaming, similar to Hulu. Amazon already offers unlimited streaming to its $79/year Prime members; its “Instant Video” service lets one rent or buy a title without a subscription.
It’s worth noting that Hulu hasn’t yet carried current CBS content in its catalog — only the old shows. We’re guessing this has something to do with the fact that Hulu is owned by NBC Universal Television Group, Fox Broadcasting Company, and Disney-ABC Television Group. As in not CBS. Ya think?
In an even bigger blow to competitors Hulu and Netflix, Amazon secured exclusive streaming rights to the hit BBC show Downton Abbey. While the first two seasons of the show are currently available on all three services, Amazon will be the sole streaming provider of season 3, starting in mid-June. Amazon also secured exclusive streaming rights to the third and fourth and fifth seasons (assuming the show persists, and we can’t imagine it not.)
Notably, Comcast secured exclusive cable-VOD streaming rights to all three seasons of Downton Abbey, and purchased rights to stream first two seasons of the show on its Xfinity Streampix service.
Watch for some original programming coming from Amazon, too – like the comedy “Alpha House,” the musical comedy “Browsers,” and “The Onion Presents: The News” — a comedy set behind the scenes of the Onion News Network. Amazon plans to film a total of six different pilots, then allow customers to decide which should go on to a full series.
Meanwhile, Netflix premiered its second original series, the political drama “House of Cards,” on February 1st. It beat out both AMC and HBO for the rights to this show, an adaptation of a BBC miniseries, back in 2011.
The entire 13-episode first season of House of Cards hit the Netflix queue at once, which created a massive buzz, in TV circles, and is a huge departure from the way episodic TV has ever worked.
Detractors say the show will suffer from the lack of the water cooler buzz that tends to accompany a weekly airing – but on the flip side, people can start watching from the beginning if they hear their friends raving about it after the 5th episode (as someone who got hooked on “Mad Men” two years after the fact, I can relate.)
Netflix has several other original series on deck as well: Eli Roth’s “Hemlock Grove” is coming in April; the revival of the Fox comedy “Arrested Development” in May; and comedic drama “Orange is the New Black,” from “Weeds” director Jenji Kohan, later this year. Netflix also purchased the exclusive rights to air the new series “Derek” (from Ricky Gervais, creator of “The Office”) after its run on channel 4 in the UK – no word on the Netflix release date for that one.
And then there’s the original children’s programming: In December, Netflix plans to launch “Turbo F.A.S.T”, based on the upcoming DreamWorks movie “Turbo.” Based on the indomitable influence of toddlers over Netflix queues (“let’s watch it again!”), it might be just the thing to cement Netflix as a monthly staple in homes with little couch potatoes (or “fingerlings,” as I like to call them.)
Hulu will also premiere several new original shows in 2013 – including the animated series “The Awesomes” from SNL’s Seth Meyers and Michael Shoemaker. They’re also unveiling another collaboration with the BBC, “The Wrong Man,” plus a new docu-series about sports mascots called “Behind the Mask.”
There’s no telling which of these shows, if any, will be a smash hit. One thing is clear: the fragmentation in the OTT content world continues. With OTT distributors releasing original content, it might only take one hit show (or children’s series for that matter) to rocket one of these service providers right up to “essential” status alongside the pay TV bill in household budgets.
But what happens then? Most people today are using OTT services in addition to, and not instead of, the cable/telco/satellite cord. As more original content is created, will we eventually reach a point where some popular shows are spread out across all the subscription OTT services, as well as basic or premium networks, like AMC or Showtime? And if that’s the case, will people be willing to sign up for several different streaming services on top of their payTV subscription?
Or, maybe we’ll see payTV operators begin to pick up original content from the likes of Netflix and Amazon instead (as we saw with Hulu in Canada this past summer.) There’s only one bet I’ll make with any confidence: it’s going to be an interesting year of watching TV.