Burning at Both Ends

Anyone who has read this blog in the past (thanks, Mom!) knows that I’m a fan of Netflix as well as the Fox Network show Arrested Development. Today, Netflix announced that it is going to be bringing back Arrested Development in 2012 exclusively to their streaming video service; firmly placing them in the category of a premium cable channel. I’m also a fan of Apple and Amazon, who along with Netflix, are businesses which represent the future of the entertainment industry and media consumption, though in significantly different ways.

Jon Gruber stated the other day that he didn’t think Netflix was capable of creating hardware to support an “end-to-end solution.” I don’t disagree that there’s essentially no chance Netflix will move beyond the app business and into actual hardware1. But I disagree with the notion that Apple and Amazon are providing end-to-end solutions. In fact, what Apple and Amazon are really providing are middle-to-one-end solutions. That is, they take content licensed from a studio and serve it over their systems to their hardware2. Netflix, however, is moving to the other end by creating content to serve on their systems to someone else’s hardware platform via an app. In doing so, they get a wider installed base with no hardware investment (which no one other than Apple has really yet to crack; though the Kindle Fire from Amazon is just a week old).

Netflix has dabbled with being a studio in the past, or at least a financier of independent film. Their folded Red Envelope Entertainment—which backed some really great indie films—was a worthy try, but competed against some of their bread & butter content providers. While that fact hasn’t changed much, the stakes have. When Netflix made the decision to close their Red Envelope Entertainment division, the Apple App Store had just launched and the iPad hadn’t even been announced yet. That landscape has completely changed, with premium network HBO having a really terrific app now that lets subscribers watch their shows on demand. The ability to watch Game of Thrones anytime, anywhere has surely helped HBO’s subscriber numbers and I think this is what Netflix must have it’s eye on.

The price of Netflix’s streaming service puts in the range with HBO and now Netflix has the killer content which will compel fans to sign up if they weren’t already subscribers. Thus they stand a chance to gain subscribers at the expense of premium cable providers like HBO, especially among the growing number of cable-cutters (you don’t need a cable subscription to watch Netflix shows; you do for HBO’s).

So, which is a better business to be in between hardware and content producer? I honestly don’t know, but given the nightmare of content licenses all these tech companies are having to navigate, I have a good feeling that producing premium content might be more as appealing as getting into the hardware game. Though the markets for iPads is essentially the same age as the market for streaming video apps on such devices, the playing field among studios looks a lot more leve than having to taken on a juggernaut like Apple’s iOS devices from scratch.

You’re move, Amazon.

  1. This is the company that is racing to dump physical media, for one thing! []
  2. Note that, in the case of Amazon’s print publishing, they are consuming the entire business between author an reader. Now that is as much an end-to-end solution as one could have, short of providing advances to authors. []

NBC: We’ve Pretty Much Given Up

The Peacock Network was once a bastion for drama and comedy. Those days are long gone, with only a few bright spots in an otherwise abysmal line-up (Scrubs, My Name is Earl, and The Office being most of those highlights). Recently, they announced that Universal (NBC and USA Networks parent company) were moving Monk and Psych from USA to NBC, as if that was going be a good thing for those shows. Why find new shows or talent when you can just bring some up from the minor leagues? Just the other evening, we saw some commercials for four new shows this summer on NBC: all were reality/contest shows (including American Gladiator, which pretty much sucked the first go around). Now, comes an announcement that they are going to start crafting shows around sponsor’s products. Of course, that’s assuming any advertisers are even considering spending money at NBC.

Monarch of the Banana Stand

Well, no sooner did I get my first disc of Arrested Development from Netflix than Fox announced they planned to cancel the series

Arrested Development - Season One

Arrested Development: Season One on DVD or at Netflix.

Well, no sooner did I get my first disc of Arrested Development from Netflix than Fox announced they planned to cancel the series. I suppose it’s been hanging by a thin thread all along anyhow, but I feel a little disappointed after I figured out what so many people had already said: it is really a great show.

After watching the first six episodes, I can’t help but think of it as a sort of Americanized version of another one of my favorite series, the BBC’s Monarch of the Glen (which, in turn, seemed a bit like a Scottish Northern Exporsure). Monarch is the story of a unwilling second son who comes to save his boyhood home and family estate upon returning as a grown man. He comes to terms with his eccentric family, proves to be a savvy business man and community leader, and even finds love (in the character of Lexy, played by the remarkably hot Dawn Steele).

Arrested development is the somewhat similar story of unwilling second son who steps in to run the family business after Dad is taken away to jail and they lose everything. Jason Bateman plays a wonderful heavy named Michael Bluthe in a cast of completely absurd American aristocrats. It seems that even well-meaning Michael can’t save this family from their own ineptitude. Sure, some of the jokes are a little crude, but there’s something of a charming innocence about it that comes from the character’s complete cluelessness about just how bad their situation is. That, and the fact that Ron Howard (executive producer) narrates the show (Lil’ Oppie Cunningham can add instant innocence to anything).

I do find the show somewhat poorly edited, though. The jumps in plot lines seem really confusing, albeit forgivable since it’s the humor your in for, not intricate drama. Watching some of the deleted scenes really made me realize this, as in when I finally figured out why Michael actually wanted to find the records for the company jet in the first place. I guess the editors just assumed we really wouldn’t care, since it’s not as thought Michael was ever going to get them anyway. I just chalk it up to more of the show’s quirkiness.

Sadly, the show’s quirkiness and charm couldn’t save it from getting the ax at Fox. I suppose it is all about the ratings, but shows like Arrested Development, Firefly, and Monarch of the Glen all make me wish that studios would just create direct to DVD production of hastily canceled series.

Calling Mark Cuban… I see a business plan, here.

Update: Well, apparently LostRemote has some very interesting ideas, although they still might need some guy like Cuban to put up some cash (via The Long Tail).