Facebook, Twitter and Apple get into the television business

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ON AUGUST 27th the season finale of HBO’s “Game of Thrones”, one of the most expensively produced series in television history, will air to an audience of more than 10m Americans. When it ends, viewers can switch to one of the most inexpensively produced shows in the industry, “Talk the Thrones”, in which boffins sit around and discuss HBO’s show. Hundreds of thousands are expected to watch.

Besides the obvious gap in entertainment value (one has dragons, the other has people talking about them), there is another distinction between the series. “Game of Thrones” is available only for a subscription on pay TV. “Talk the Thrones” is free on Twitter, produced by a digital site called The Ringer and sponsored by Verizon, a telecommunications giant. Although the HBO series is more popular, “Talk the Thrones” may be a better sign of how the TV industry might evolve.

A new generation of TV shows is being made for smartphones, tablets and other internet-connected screens. Netflix and Amazon have been at this for some time. But other technology companies are now joining them, splashing out on new series and testing different formats.

This month Facebook introduced a small number of its users to TV shows under a new tab called “Watch”, which should soon become more widely available. The social-media platform is streaming live sports such as Major League Baseball and Mexican football. Twitter in May announced deals to stream more live sport and other content, including a 24-hour feed from Bloomberg, a news company; a morning show with BuzzFeed, a digital-news firm; and a daily entertainment show called #WhatsHappening from Propagate, a production company in Los Angeles. Snap has commissioned a number of short shows that target the young users of its Snapchat messaging app.

Many of the new series are inexpensive: an episode might cost tens of thousands of dollars to make, compared with up to $20m for an action-packed hour of “Game of Thrones”. But more costly shows for apps are on the way.

Apple recently hired a pair of executives from Sony’s television studio, with reported plans to shell out up to $1bn on TV shows. Facebook has suggested to possible partners in Hollywood that it will splurge on future series, spending as much as $100,000 a minute. Google’s YouTube, which has already invested heavily in shows featuring social-media stars, is now planning to make more mainstream fare. And Jeffrey Katzenberg, a former Disney executive and co-founder of DreamWorks Animation, is seeking $2bn for a venture to produce top-quality shows that are just minutes long. Imagine Netflix, but for shorter attention spans.

The success of these attempts is uncertain. For all the time people spend gawping at their phones (see chart), they do not often use them to watch video. American adults consume 47 minutes of video each week on a smartphone, according to Nielsen, a research firm; those aged 18-24 watch more, 83 minutes per week. An early, expensive foray into TV made for phones, Verizon’s “go90” app, has struggled since its launch two years ago; the shows have not proved compelling enough to attract a wide audience. But that has not dissuaded the technology companies. Firms such as Facebook, Snap and Twitter are keen for users to spend even more time on their platforms. New shows are potentially a good way to attract them.

This surge of investment will force a fast-changing industry to adapt even more quickly, says Ben Silverman, a former co-chairman of NBC Entertainment who now runs Propagate. Old-fashioned TV looks more vulnerable by the day. The amount of time Americans aged 18-24 spend watching pay TV has plunged by almost half in this decade. Many viewers are shifting to Netflix, which is itself pouring money into its business. This summer it lured Shonda Rhimes, a famous TV producer, from ABC, a conventional network. But other tech firms smell ample opportunity for their own apps. Competition in the TV business is already intense. An even fiercer fight is coming to a phone near you.

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Julio Marchi ©

Publisher / Editor at BS News & Media Services
A free thinker, not labelled as anything, not associated with any party, not part of any group or engaged with any religion... A simple guy tired of the nowadays bullshit who decided to promote more serious debates about what is really happening hoping to bring back intelligence to the superficial and shallow news & headlines that unfortunately took over the existing media scene.
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