Streaming Television and Digital Publishing

Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix, has an interesting perspective on television viewers and their desire to have control over what they watch. He starts with a historical analogy:

“Two hundred years ago, a lot of fiction was written for magazines. It was a serialized format for novels. And then book manufacturing got cheap enough where you could make a book and sell it at a reasonable cost. And then people got control of all 13 chapters; they could read on their own schedule, and that greatly outcompeted the serialized release model of the then-historic magazines.”

In his view, this is what television viewers will come to expect, opting for entire seasons available all at once (rather than individual episodes released serially):

“And I think we’ll see the same thing, which is: More and more, consumers want control. They want freedom. Occasionally they binge, and that makes a great story, but most of the time it’s just a single episode like you read the chapter of a book.”

Reed Hastings

Two interesting points in connection with yesterday’s post on the rise of the novella.

First, one of the criticisms of the new Netflix model (which they’ve used with shows like House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black), is that in embracing the flexibility provided by streaming television, they have failed to take advantage of another major technological development – the rise of the Internet and social media. They may be giving viewers control, but they’re taking away the ability of viewers to participate with tweets, recaps, blog posts, comments, etc. For episodic television, whether that tradeoff is a business savvy one remains to be seen.

For books, there’s no such tradeoff to be made (as Hastings suggests, it was made long ago). But given the rise in social media, one wonders if we might see a return to serialization. One could easily imagine a Stephen King releasing a book a chapter at a time, sacrificing reader control but trying to take advantage of reader buzz. Can it work with books the way it does now with a hot television show? Maybe.

What I really liked was the parallel with novellas. Hastings says:

“And we’ll see chapters [individual episodes] that are variable length. Like TV shows, instead of having 22 minutes for every episode, you can go with 30 minutes and 16, depending on the natural rhythms of the story.”


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