In the past ten years, the shift towards digitalisation of TV has become more concrete than ever. You don’t need a TV nor a subscription to watch. This involves not only TV shows, where this process is now complete, but even live events like sports.
One can look at Netflix, or more recently, Sky’s “NOW Tv”, a legal streaming platform where you can watch any package from Sky on the laptop or your mobile device.
Murdoch’s giant answered to two urgent matters that were being desperately presented by the audience: freedom to choose what to watch, since the pay-tv forced viewers to buy additional packages to get others, and a legal alternative.
Digitalisation of TV viewing began illegally, with pirate peer-to-peer software, like “eMule” fifteen years ago, and then “torrents” in 2005. Just two years later, illegal streaming services started to appear and quickly became popular. People wanted to watch without having to download, which killed waiting times but also involved less legal issues for the consumer, as one didn’t physically possess the material.
Video platforms began to host the most watched shows on television. Above all once stood Megavideo, the illegal Netflix. It was so popular that the big networks, realising that they were losing millions, started a war on web piracy, which targeted torrents too. Megavideo, which by itself held copyrighted material worth an estimated $500 million, was specifically dangerous to TV, more than any other industry.
After earning $200 million, its owner, Kim Dotcom, was arrested in 2012, with the main charge being International copyright infringement. With the death of that site, although alternatives rose immediately, legal services had a chance to break out. That’s when Netflix took off. Now it’s a billion-dollar company.
In 2017, watching online is not yet the main source of TV for everyone, but it is for selected age ranges. The youngest (6-12, 12-24, 16-35) are split between Netflix, Amazon Video, Hulu (one of the pioneers of streaming), NowTV and similar, plus YouTube channels, which first introduced the idea of original online content, rather than copyrighted material. This process will continue, as technology advances.
Along with this shift, we’ve seen bloggers become more influential, also thanks to social media. Traditional reviewers didn’t disappear: some appear online, others still maintain their loyal following through magazines or weekly columns.
The Guardian’s Sam Wollaston and even more, the New York Times’ Mike Hale are just two great examples of how to transition paper reviews into online. Hale often deals with Amazon Prime Video and Netflix too, whereas Wollaston covers traditional TV.
However, they haven’t brought changes to the products. The cultural metamorphosis has been happening through blogs and social media: female reviewers gained more freedom to put their background and values in their work.
One of the key figures is Maureen Ryan, who writes mostly for the Huffington Post. This is a platform that allows more informality and cross references to other topics rather than a traditional style of reviewing, focused on the product itself. One could argue that the attention should be on what we’re reviewing, but a bigger picture is also often compelling to read. Ryan’s review of the show “Girls” is a recent example of her ability to use neo-feminism as a weapon to construct strong reviews that carry different messages.
Ryan often looks at Amanda Marcotte, another feminist blogger, who deals with TV and politics. She wrote a piece on Jezebel.com, “How to Make a Critically Acclaimed TV Show About Masculinity”, which looked at how patriarchy and man power were successful themes in modern television, pointing at shows such as the Sopranos, Mad Men and Breaking Bad, often regarded the best TV series ever created.
Both of these influential writers argued how TV was dominated by masculine figures. Just like them, many others. Marcotte’s piece dated 2011. Let’s look at the reality of today’s shows.
Netflix, at the top of streaming platforms, was able to reach this status because of the quality of their shows. Initially, when their budget was limited, they distinguished themselves from regular US networks by chasing quality more than quantity, following a model similar to cable channel HBO, but online and at a lower price.
One of the strategies they applied was a smart analysis of the critics and their impact on audiences. The world was ready for TV shows with female-dominant characters, and was asking for one. Netflix was the platform that realised it before anyone else, delivered it and profited immensely from it: it’s called “Orange is The New Black”.
The show, which won 12 Emmy awards and was highly acclaimed by critics, was not just a success in economic terms, but more importantly, it was culturally. Netflix gained popularity and became a trendy thing to have, much like a Starbuck’s cup of coffee or an iPhone.
Not that female protagonists didn’t’ exist before: HBO’s Sex and the City, CBS’s “Medium”, ABC’s Ugly Betty, Desperate Housewives, FOX’s Glee, are successful examples. Yet, they didn’t have the cultural importance that Orange Is the New Black carried, for three main reasons. Firstly, none of those characters was dominant and they were stereotypical. They had their power, or they were going to be empowered later in the plot, but nothing that could have a buzz on social media and therefore, in the consumer’s mind. Secondly, it was too early: feminist critics didn’t have much of an impact as they have now. Finally, all of those shows were TV network hits, not online, so they could not be as revolutionary.
New shows keep on following this trend now, all over the western world: the most successful series in Italy is “Gomorra”, a crime show that follows Neapolitan gangsters battle each other to control the drug market and political hegemony. While the protagonists are men, the co- protagonists are strong women, as bosses as men, often wiser than men, able to rule armies. One of them in particular, “Annalisa”, has the ambition of becoming the first queen of the Camorra crime system in the south of Italy.
Whether or not reviews should be purely based on the show or they should feature political outlines, is up for debate, but the impact female reviewers have in the evolution of digitalisation in the TV industry has to be recognised.
Picture from: Touch Weekly