I Demand My On-Demand

Sam Parish
Latest posts by Sam Parish (see all)

Okay, show of hands. Who here is a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Come on don’t be shy I know you’re out there knitting your Jayne-style bobble hats or sharing celebratory Agent Coulson gifs on Tumblr. I won’t judge. I myself am about as big a Browncoat as they come. Well, fellow fans, did you know that for quite some time there was going to be a Buffy animated series? It’s true. It was planned as a midquel/continuation of the series set during season one (With the pilot set somewhere between episodes seven and eight, fact fans). You can check it out right here, right now.

So, why has it been such a no-show? Well, it’s due to several reasons; chief among them being reluctance on the part of broadcast networks. They considered it a difficult sell, too mature for Saturday morning slots but too “cartoony” for primetime. In the end, despite a lot of time, effort, talent and money, the series was quietly put to sleep, a victim of network television’s inability to think outside of its own boundaries.

Luckily for audiences and creators alike things are changing.  The internet has broken the entertainment industry and now audiences and creators worldwide are finding new and innovative ways to present and consume entertainment, and I for one wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Television is YouTube for old people” says Molly Hayes, preteen mutant and the greatest thing to come out of Marvel publishing in years. Whilst I don’t agree entirely, it can’t be denied that the last few years have been revolutionised by the words On-Demand.Suddenly, we are no longer bound by the archaic rituals of TV schedules, recording-it-for-later or waiting for the DVD. Now we can have our entertainment when we want, where we want and through whatever we want. We happily watch movies on our phones or stream entire season box-sets on our computers. We the consumers now dictate our viewing habits by our own lives. Not by what we read in the Radio Times.

These days we are seeing an explosion in content from across the globe. Independent artists are able to develop and explore ideas and stories – often those once considered too risky or unusual for development and broadcast in years gone by. Niche audiences are being catered to like never before.

Take LGBTQ audiences for example. Previously we made do with catty stereotypes and sexless, gay best friends, with any attempts at presenting us in more realised, earnest ways being either hastily cancelled or proclaimed as the height of “provocative” and “political” programming. But through the wide canvas of online entertainment we’ve been given such great visions as The Vessel and Husbands, both giving us new and dynamic LGBTQ stories which would never have seen the light of day were it not for the freedom given to us through digital and on-demand entertainment.

And let’s not forget that mother of user-generated-content YouTube. How many millions of hours of content have been produced and watched by billions over the years? Creators worldwide have been given the chance to tailor content to vast swathes of untapped and under-appreciated audiences, hungry for entertainment that connects with them. Who amongst us doesn’t have a favourite video blogger tucked away in their subscriptions page? Or podcast? Or blog?  When you consider the possibilities these new platforms offer us as consumers and creators the mind boggles. It’s not just what it can do for television but all forms of entertainment big and small. For anyone out there with a story to tell, or an idea to share, now is the time to dig deep and bring your creations out into the world. I’m excited, and you should be too.

However, it isn’t just the smaller, independent scene that’s reaping the benefits of the shift in status quo. There is ample fun to be had for those wanting for something a little bit more ambitious than five-minute animated sketches, or Skyrim fan-films.

Enter Netflix. We all know it. I use it, you probably use it and we’re all made the richer for it. Who could ever imagine even a few years ago of a service dedicated to providing thousands of films and television programmes from across the world, all accessible at the push of a button and a small entry fee? For television and movie junkies like me it is nothing short of a revelation. A revolution. Breaking down the barriers between truly exceptional entertainment experiences and audiences eager for the fondly remembered and yet to be discovered. I myself have sunk countless hours mainlining seasons of Xena Warrior Princess and Twin Peaks like a man possessed.
But what really makes me sit up and pay attention is what the future holds for on-demand services. A future we have only scratched the surface of.

When Netflix announced that it would be entering the world of original programming, people listened. Its glitzy, star-studded adaptation of classic British political thriller House of Cards was one of the biggest gambles in television history. If it succeeded it would be a watershed moment: the start of a bold new future of television freed from the constraints of advertising, ratings and network censorship. If it failed it could very well have done irreparable damage both financially and conceptually to the burgeoning field of on-demand television.

And what a hit it was, quickly becoming one of the most successful and critically acclaimed new series of the past few years. Praised not only for its production values and exemplary writing but also for the huge creative risk it took in its delivery method, the entire season offered up in one go rather than meted out over weeks and months in order to satisfy the needs of a network schedule. House of Cards showed audiences and creators alike that mainstream success can come from outside the tightly ruled and regulated network television landscape. It was a game changer in the very best sense and soon creators and producers flocked to on-demand services in droves. New episodes of classics such as Arrested Development and original properties such as Hemlock Grove and recent critical darling Orange is the New Black have made on-demand providers the vanguard of compelling, engaging and unmissable entertainment.

Spurred by these successes, others have leaped into the on-demand market headfirst, with online giants such as Amazon opening their own television studios and Microsoft announcing both a Halo television series and a Battlestar Galactica-style remake of Blake’s Seven on the way-available exclusively via their Xbox Live service. It would seem that the line in the sand has been drawn. On-demand and digitally-delivered television is going big and bold.

Let’s not forget the knock-on effect this can have on regular broadcasting either. Thanks to the waves made by Netflix and its ilk, traditional networks will have to work even harder to match the quality and diversity viewers now have available to them. New and riskier properties such as Cartoon Network’s Adventure Time, or HBO’s monster hit Game of Thrones (recently announced as the most downloaded show of all time) have been given the freedom and support to become some of the most successful and beloved programmes on the air today.

Of course, there are always downsides, such as not everyone having the high-speed broadband or wherewithal to afford such providers. Plus big-budget original digital programming is still in its infancy. The chance of a massive flop crippling future projects being green lit always hangs in the air.  But, in spite of these risks as both audience and creator, I still can’t help but be so very excited for what the future can bring. After all if it means a world where Buffy the Animated Series could get the run it deserves, or where there are a few more Hannibals and a few less Jeremy Kyle shows, then I for one welcome our new digital overlords. After all, as a great artist once said “You can’t stand in the way of pop culture”.

About Sam Parish

Sam Parish is a sometimes writer, cartoonist and soon-to-be teacher (God help us all). He has a penchant for pop/geek culture, expensive teas and empty hammocks. He was hoping to end this bio with a joke. He failed. Tell him what you think of him @SamOfAllThings

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