Byron Austen Ashley is a digital producer based out of Los Angeles. A recent graduate of the Northwestern University School of Communication, Byron works for the Big Frame network, serving as an Associate Producer for Dave Days and as a Production Coordinator for DeStorm Power. In 2010, Byron was nominated for Best College Student Production – Entertainment Program/Segment at the Chicago/Midwest Emmy Awards for his work on ‘Prison Boat.’
On October 28, 2011, Google announced an approximate $150 million investment towards the creation of premium content for YouTube. On that day, I began paying serious attention to digital media. I grew up an avid movie lover with a nearly religious attachment to the traditional moviegoing experience. For me, original web content other than the viral and music-derivative content seemed to generally be either misguided or a product of a subculture. The announcement of these premium channels sparked a realization in the eyes of many that 2012 might be the year that new media will finally shine as mass culture.
Google’s premium channels launched in early 2012; however, they were not the first major outing of a large corporation creating original content for the web. Around the same time as the premium channels launched, Netflix debuted its first original first-run series, “Lilyhammer”. Netflix will also be bringing back “Arrested Development” along with their new program, “House of Cards” exclusively for their subscribers later this year. Likewise, original programming is being created at Amazon Studios and Hulu and has existed for a while on other less ubiquitous sites such as Vuguru, Blip and Crackle (who now has a new web series starring Jerry Seinfeld). Hulu even acted particularly ahead-of-their-time in airing an interactive web series back in 2010, “If I can Dream,” from “American Idol” creator Simon Fuller.
One might note the obvious concern surrounding an entertainment climate where subscribing to a single service provider will entitle you to only their selection of content, rather than the traditional cable model where all competition is predominantly price-based with all providers offering effectively identical content. This, however, is no longer so much the case in the cable world as people might wish to think. As of today, Dish Network subscribers do not have access to AMC. For over a week in July, DirecTV subscribers were unable to access Viacom programming. A standoff in the fall of 2010 where FOX demanded an unprecedented retransmission fee left Cablevision subscribers unable to watch portions of the MLB playoffs. While none of these standoffs seem to be particularly permanent, the concept of a cable climate where providers compete based on content offerings is not a far-out hypothetical.
While Dish Network subscribers are unable to watch “Breaking Bad” without swapping providers, Amazon Prime subscribers have the option of adding a Netflix subscription for only an additional $7.99 monthly if they feel the need to watch “Arrested Development.” This is just one of the ways in which the digital world is bearing a striking resemblance to the world of traditional media.
In fact, as far as cable is concerned, the traditional television experience may be no longer relevant to many people in my demographic (Disclaimer: I am a 21-year-old male with a college degree). Other than live programming — one of the few remaining advertising goldmines in the television business — constant-streaming content channels serve very little purpose in my entertainment workflow. For me, DVRs seem to exist to help me become aware of which content I enjoy and monitor these channels on my behalf, pulling the content for me into my own personal on-demand system. This, matched with existing on-demand content, just adds to my experience of watching select content from a database rather than watching television in a traditional fashion.
In the near future, Apple will release their said-to-be-revolutionary new television sets. While the majority of our knowledge at this date is speculative, it is safe to assume that they will feature increased integration with digital streaming services. I would imagine that this device might for many people eradicate the need to “watch TV,” other than, once again, for live events. With the opportunity to seamlessly pull from their DVR, their cable provider’s on-demand library, and whatever streaming services they subscribe to as well as YouTube and other first-run digital content, there will be such a surplus of available on-demand television content that subscribers will likely feel a vastly reduced need to consume syndicated content, the classic goldmine for the television business. At this point, the term “TV” might be almost deemed a misnomer often used to describe serialized or franchised programming created in the style of traditional television. It is also worth noting that while Apple’s TV might be rather expensive for some viewers, other electronics manufacturers have the historical tendency to release similar yet more affordable products following the release of an Apple tentpole.
While streaming or “smart” televisions have yet to dominate the American home, many Americans have purchased early iterations or streaming devices, allowing them to consume online content alongside their traditional content. This first-run digital content is already being consumed in households as a source of entertainment. In fact, Deadline.com is currently airing not simply television ratings but YouTube premium channel ratings. These ratings show that these channels are truly receiving views.
The lines have even been blurring between television and film, as film becomes more serialized and television often less. I can’t help but note that the “Harry Potter” film franchise had more installations than the first season of AMC’s critically-acclaimed “The Walking Dead.”
Television and film, though, are not the only media experiencing convergence. While new media and traditional media formerly interacted with each other and held an interactive relationship, we have recently begun to see convergence across media. In response to many lawsuits, including the most notable one initiated by Viacom, YouTube introduced a Content ID system in 2007. The Content ID system allows content creators to monetize views off of what I like to refer to as derivative works (clips of television shows, music lyrics videos, etc…). Whereas this derivative content used to cannibalize the equity in this content, it now managed to create an ecosystem where fans can interact with their favorite content and not inhibit the creators from seeing their shares. As more content moves to debuting in the digital world, I foresee an unusual circumstance where YouTube may house both original and derivative content together.
I recently graduated from college and moved out to Los Angeles, where I began working for a high-volume YouTube channel. As part of this, I had the pleasure of attending this year’s VidCon, an annual convention surrounding the YouTube community. I came to this event relatively new to the YouTube world only to see 6,000 fans flocking throughout the sold-out event in the Anaheim Convention Center. I saw musicians with YouTube followings play arena concerts and get swarmed by fans as they attempted to make their way through the hotel lobby. It was at that moment that I understood what a NewMediaRockstar was. Prior to this year, VidCon was held at a small hotel in Beverly Hills. However, this year the demand finally existed to bring thousands of people to a new media convention. This is the year that YouTubers transition from subculture to mass culture. This is the year that the new media rockstar has truly emerged. As we continue to view and interact with traditional media in predominantly new media-dominated environments, this is the year that new media might have finally become the dominant media. If that is the case, then 2012 is truly the year of living digitally.