In the early days of television, it was all about appointment TV: People could watch shows only at the time they were broadcast. In the late ’70s, the advent of the VCR allowed viewers to record programs and watch them later, but only the most committed TV geeks bothered to do so.
Fast forward to today, and a brave new world of viewing and re-viewing opportunities. Most cable-based series run their shows multiple times. Fans can program DirecTV via their iPhone to record individual episodes or entire series by DVR. Many new TVs come equipped to stream Netflix, Hulu and Amazon.com, among others. Roku boxes and Apple TV allow access to an entire digital video library.
And with the practice known as cord-cutting, it’s also possible to ditch the TV altogether. Broadband’s ubiquity lets people watch shows on PCs, smartphones and iPads. Broadcasters’ websites, along with Hulu, Comcast-sponsored xFinity.tv and others let them watch (and re-watch) almost any show they want.
Recently, online ad network YuMe released a study conducted by research firm Magid Associates that suggests a marked increase in online video consumption just in the last year. The survey, which polled viewers between the ages of 13 and 54, showed that two-thirds of them were watching significantly more video online than during the previous year. Half of them thought that online video product was on par and in some cases superior to what they could see on their TVs.
YuMe exec Scot McLernon says the breakdown of the demographics in the survey mirrored that of traditional TV auds.
“We found it especially interesting that this shift is coming at a cost to television, and that half of those surveyed planned to make (online video) a part of their everyday viewing,” McLernon says. “I wonder if TV execs would consider using an online audience as a test bed for new shows.”
The broadcast nets are skittish about addressing the cord-cutting phenomenon, and declined Variety’s requests for comment. At pay cabler HBO, Michael Lombardo, president of original programming, does not think the growth of online video will affect series development or production, pointing out that online video has become an integral part in program marketing.
“Whether it be minisodes or character video blogs, we work very closely with the shows to produce original content that allows fans to further immerse themselves into the world of their favorite series,” he says.
The rise of online video, along with the Internet as a whole, may be a boon for showrunners. Damon Lindelof, co-creator and showrunner of the ABC series “Lost,” says his hit show probably would not have lasted if it could have been seen only on the air.
“Being able to do something that would be more serialized or complex in your storytelling probably would not exist were it not for the multiple ways to watch it, especially as far as the Internet is concerned,” Lindelof says. “These new media platforms enable you to be a bit more bravura in your storytelling.”
Moreover, Lindelof doesn’t see the advent of online video threatening traditional TV viewership. “As there are new and different ways to watch stuff,” he said, “it starts to seem that each of them is not necessarily always cannibalizing the other but that we’re moving into a world where they all kind of co-exist.”