Straight-to-DVD might as well have been synonymous with ‘straight-to-awful.’ Scores of 2nd rate sequels, B-Horror movies, and my personal favorite, the seemingly endless array of Mary Kate & Ashley videos, would sadly sit and collect dust on video store rental shelves. They were occasionally checked out for a good laugh but mainly served as a painful reminder that to be successful and have credibility in Hollywood, the film had to be first released in theaters.
And when video stores closed, disrupted by the Internet, the straight-to-DVD model became straight-to-web. And like its predecessor, straight-to-web also came with the connotation that the content was not good enough for a first run, premiere channel distribution.
But not anymore- Netflix made history yesterday when it received 14 Emmy nominations, more than Starz and Cinemax. This streaming service, this secondary channel, beat out primary channels that have been in business for decades. And with only one season under its belt, House of Cards, the Netflix original, scored 9 nominations- more than industry heavyweights Girls, True Blood, and The Borgias. The show’s 9 nominations were just shy of the count for Downton Abbey and Boardwalk Empire – two critically acclaimed series that saw their nomination count drop from 2012 numbers. (If you don’t believe me, see a fact sheet here) The best shows on TV may soon not be on TV, or at least how we have traditionally defined TV.
The Internet has disrupted traditional distribution channels, making it possible for startups like Netflix to take on- and beat- legacy players. The Internet has leveled the playing field, democratizing the ability to distribute content. Now anyone can be a content creator- look no further than YouTube statistics (100 hours of video uploaded per minute) to see just how many people are eager to participate in the entertainment industry. Or to Kickstarter, where promising content creators can crowdsource their own path to distribution. In 2012, the art, film, music, publishing, and theater categories each had more than 1,000 successfully funded projects. One of the movie projects, Inocente, made history last year by being the first crowdsourced film to win an Oscar, the highest honor awarded in the film industry.
This flood of content options in the market has increased competition, which has increased the quality standard. With the Internet, viewers are not constrained to a few simple distribution channels, the movie theater or standard set of cable channels from a TV box. Savvy individuals and corporations are realizing the potential reach and power of straight-to-web programming and alternative distribution methods, no more evident than in Dreamwork’s decision to release 300 hours of new children’s programming not on cable channels, but on Netflix.
But other traditional players aren’t as open minded as Dreamworks and are resisting the changes brought around by the Internet by placing barriers on viewers– restricting access online, and trying to keep them watching in theaters and on TV. With no legal options, viewers are only eager to challenge and break these barriers; Game of Thrones is one of HBO’s highest rated shows, but because fans without cable subscriptions can’t legally watch the show online, it is also the most pirated TV show in history. Consumers can, and will, find a way to access content they want to watch- whether it’s on TV or on the web. Traditional players risk losing viewers- and their reputation- if they continue to resist change and fail to evolve their business models.
Next year, expect Netflix to be joined by a host of additional Internet-first competitors on the Emmy nomination list, ‘stealing’ nominations– and awards– from traditional players. (AOL, Hulu, and Amazon are among the players who have already announced their own original programming slate.) Perhaps the most important thing the Internet has revealed in the entertainment industry is that it’s the content– not the strength or legacy of the distribution arm– that matters most to viewers. Viewers will follow the best content, and increasingly, this content is on the web.
In this evolution, straight-to-TV or straight-to-theater may soon become synonymous with straight-to-awful.