“I like watching [television shows] online better because I can watch what I want whenever I want to,” first-year Dario Mitchell said. New College has two television sets wired with cable on campus, but for anyone that asks students where they are watching their television, the responses will be, perhaps, unexpectedly dense in favor of the Internet.
Mitchell summed his preference in an especially simple manner, as the idea of what modern television is has been called into question by everyone from producers to Emmy voters to college students. In the past few years, the Internet has transformed the way people around the world are watching television.
If a show airs on a broadcast or cable network in 2013, it is all but guaranteed that it can be found online. Mitchell claimed to not have watched much, if any, television before coming to New College, but his fellow students encouraged him to discover the seemingly infinite entertainment available on the Internet.
“I get to watch the Daily Show now because Comedy Central puts it on their website,” Mitchell said. “I’d never watch it on television.”
The age of Internet television has invented a way of viewing programs dubbed by various experts as “binge viewing.” Second-year Ariel Heiman – a self-identified “television fanatic” – tackled an enormous number of “Supernatural” episodes, that aired over a period longer than six years, in a matter of months; the very definition of binging television programming.
“It wasn’t the first time I managed something like this,” Heiman joked.
The experiences of New College students like Heiman and Mitchell are reflected around country. In a study released by eMarketer in early April, it was revealed that an additional 15 million people started watching television digitally – on their computers, smartphones, tablets, or similar devices – from just a year earlier. A 2012 Nielsen study found that young people aged 18- 34 were spending less time in front of the television than in years past, but were watching more of it – the only demographic doing so.
Young people are leading the charge in what has become a fundamental debate on what exactly television is. As viewership for made for- television content shifts from the big screen to mobile devices, the idea that television programming has to be made-for-television is suddenly up for debate.
Netflix has launched a pair of original series in 2013 – the winter released political thriller “House of Cards” and the more recently-released supernatural murder mystery “Hemlock Grove” – in order to try and change “the way we view television,” as Netflix Chief Exective Officer Reed Hastings put it.
Hastings’s attempt seems to have been successful. “House of Cards” was dubbed “a great success” and the website’s “most viewed content today” by the Netflix CEO. Deadline reported that Netflix’s shares in post-market trading were up 25 percent between January and March, compared to the final quarter of 2012.
“[House of Cards] provided a halo effect on our entire service,” Hastings and Chief Financial Officer David Wells released in a statement responding to the news. The good news has not stopped there, either. “Hemlock Grove,” which premiered just a few weeks ago, was “getting viewed by even more subscribers in its first couple days” than “House of Cards,” according to Hastings.
Netflix’s groundbreaking move has spurred action around the television community. Amazon swiftly responded to the streaming service’s decision to air original programs. They commissioned production on 12 pilots – a number usually associated with major broadcast networks like NBC – and have recently posted all 12 online for viewers to watch. They plan to use traffic on Facebook, reception from critics and overall viewership numbers to determine which pilots will go on as full-fledged series.
These programs are not exactly low-rent, either. Peter Micelli, an agent in the Casting Association of America, broke the news that Netflix episodes would cost between $3.8 million and $4.5 million to make. For comparison’s sake, that is “outspending the broadcast networks,” as per Deadline. Amazon, meanwhile, produced six hours’ worth of pilots for around $12 million. Micelli went so far as to say that Microsoft’s Xbox will heavily compete with Netflix. Beyond that, high-priced stars like Kevin Spacey and John Goodman are starring in this made-for-online content in leading roles.
The central question remains, however, is this television? In a controversial decision, the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, who votes on the Emmy Awards, says yes. In other words, “House of Cards,” a drama that never aired on television, will compete in television awards alongside network dramas like “The Good Wife” and cable favorites like “Breaking Bad.”
First-year Joy Fagan agreed with this decision, explaining “even shows that are on TV, most people are consuming them on the Internet.”
“I guarantee you Emmy voters are binge viewing the nominees on DVDs and stuff – do you think they have the time to watch every episode of every show?” Heiman said, echoing the sentiment.
While Fagan and Heiman certainly are not alone in their defense of television as expanding beyond what happens on broadcast, there is a fair argument on the other side.
“If you’re getting stuff from the Internet, you’re not watching television,” Mitchell argued. “I think television describes what you would get on a large screen in a living room, not from the Internet.”
Whatever one’s idea of what television is, it is irrefutably changing. Fagan put the ultimate consequences of the change simply, and with a smile – “More good stuff to watch.”