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).