The Future Is Web Series' Open TV? Yes, But What Is Its Business Model?

Author:Polanco, Luis

Legacy (or linear) television has produced an industry that is closed off and homogenous, and lacks novelty, argues Aymar Jean Christian, an assistant professor of Communications at Northwestern University and a Peabody fellow. His solution? Open TV: Innovation Beyond Hollywood and the Rise of Web Television (320 pgs., NYU Press, 2018, $30).

"Legacy" television refers to linear network distribution--which consists of broadcast, cable, and premium subscription networks, while open TV alludes to web or networked distribution that focuses on innovation and diversity in its series development, with an emphasis on fan and audience engagement.

Recent successful examples of open TV that Christian cites include HBO's High Maintenance, which originally premiered as a web series on Vimeo, and Comedy Central's Broad City, which had its start on YouTube.

That many of these "legacy" distributors have developed their own networked or OTT platforms --CBS has All Access, HBO has HBO Now, etc.--only bolsters Christian's claim that television has entered "the networked era," which he defines as the "convergence of old network and new networked business strategies for developing original TV programming."

The open TV market, Christian explains, has developed "in response to two opposing trends: the tightening of the series production market despite a greater number of distribution channels, and the opening of new TV markets through the Internet's decentralized distribution system."

Independent and web TV creators--amateurs, film students, and industry professionals living mostly in Los Angeles or New York--were the first to embrace the new market, which, Christian argues, "demonstrates the value of more open access to distribution in industries where access has been historically restricted."

Christian remarks that one of the prominent innovations in the open TV market was its diversity. "Web creators often address communities underserved by legacy television development, and many of the most passionate producers create stories about those marginalized by race, gender and sexuality, and class in politics and culture," he writes, speculating that this type of content is often considered too niche to do well in mass distribution. While Christian points out that part of the market's innovation lies in its honest representation of different races and genders--which he thoroughly explores in his chapter on cultural representation--his focus lacks a persuasive...

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