Do We Even Need TVs Anymore? – HBO Online and the Future of Subscription Programming

(No lengthy discussion of HBO would be complete without listening to the opening intro music of every single HBO program so go ahead and indulge for a 8 seconds above and get ready for this discussion)

Throughout this class, my beat has been focused around television and how digital disruption is changing the way TV is made, exhibited, and consumed.  The topic of this post will be analyzing the move by HBO Entertainment to offer a subscription offer that only includes online services, such as the popular HBO GO.  This would be for consumers who do not wish to have a cable subscription (to “cut the cord” as they say).  Some people think it may be the next step for television, as less people watch their television on an actual TV.  I will now take a closer look at HBO’s plan and what this means for the future of the television industry.

HBO was the first subscription cable television channel to become successful.  Starting in the 1970s, HBO’s original model was to buy the distribution rights of older films that they could play for customers for a subscription charge of $6/month.  Many people feared that cable channels would bring an end to broadcast dominance, a fear that still rings true today.  In the late 1970s, they started making their first original programming.  As the infrastructure grew, they got access to better commercial films and their audience expanded.  Today, “Home Box Office Inc. (HBO) is the largest pay-TV channel in the United States, with a subscriber base of about 33 million and earnings of approximately $400 million. As a subsidiary of Time Warner Entertainment Co., L.P., 63 percent of which is owned by Time Warner Inc” (source).

Below you can see all the different ways that HBO subscribers can currently use to enjoy HBO programming in 2014:

From HBO.com
From HBO.com

Subscribers originally panicked when HBO demanded $8 extra a month to pay for their service online, on the site HBO GO.  Why would you pay more to have the programming on a smaller screen when you can have it on your television?  But similar to HBO On Demand, HBO GO lets users decide when they want to watch a program.  The schedule no longer mattered because shows could be watched when the customer decided to.  Customers can also repeatedly watch an episode they enjoy or easily pause and rewind key moments.

Above is a recent ad for HBO GO, which is attempting to appeal to the younger audience.  The big point of the campaign was that HBO knows some of its content (gratuitous sex scenes, language, adult themes, etc.) are not things teens would enjoy watching with their parents in the room.  With HBO GO, they can watch the programming on any laptop or mobile device, away from the eyes of their parents.

In addition, HBO GO offers customers access to the channel’s entire backlog.  It is just as easy to watch new shows like Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and Looking as it is to find old HBO classics like The Sopranos, Sex & the City, and The Wire.  This is a no-brainer win for HBO because they have already paid for these productions in years past.  By streaming everything online, they give customers more product and incentive to keep their subscriptions without having to cover any new costs.

Given all of these advantages, people have been demanding a service without cable for quite some time.  In 2013, blogger Jake Caputo created the site Take My Money, HBO!, where he tried to get HBO’s attention and asked others how much they would be willing to pay for the subscription.  He then tweeted this information at the company.

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Well, they succeeded.  The new proposed subscription would include access to HBO GO and nothing else.  Subscribers could have access to all new and archival programming from HBO for a small monthly fee without ever having to deal with cable.

It is important to note that this new subscription model is not meant to replace HBO’s television model.  Instead, this is for the tech-savvy customer who does not currently have or have future desire to pay for a cable subscription, but still wants access to HBO’s programming.  This is mainly younger people, who get their television from sites like HULU Plus, Amazon Prime, and Netflix, in addition to pirating shows illegally off the Internet (we’ve all done it before).   In fact, HBO’s smash hit Game of Thrones currently holds the title of most pirated show on the Internet as the season four finale was reported downloaded 1.5 million times within the first 12 hours of it being released on HBO.  But HBO has not seemed to mind in the past about pirating.  In fact, they seem to think it is a good thing.  HBO CEO Jeff Bewkes has stated that:

“Basically, we’ve been dealing with this issue for years with HBO, literally 20, 30 years, where people have always been running wires down on the back of apartment buildings and sharing with their neighbors,” he said. “Our experience is, it all leads to more penetration, more paying subs, more health for HBO, less reliance on having to do paid advertising… If you go around the world, I think you’re right, Game of Thrones is the most pirated show in the world. Well, you know, that’s better than an Emmy” (source).

So why open this new subscription option in the first place? Apparently in recent months, HBO has come to realize all the new profit and open markets they could be tapping with this subscription, as there are currently 80 million homes in the US without HBO.

There is still no official word on how much the service will cost subscribers but most estimates put it at about $15.  The average cable cost for an HBO subscription is at about $20, which is a charge added on top of the regular cable bill.

Given that most college students I know do not seem to pay for cable subscriptions here at school, I was curious to hear what their thoughts were on the plan.  Below is a survey conducted over the last week with 20 different seniors here at the University of Michigan:

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Do you currently have access to an HBO subscription?

Answer: 85% said “Yes”

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Would you consider paying a small monthly fee for access to HBO Go online?

Answer: 40% said “Yes”

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Would you ever consider completely “cutting the cord” and going cable and broadcast television free?

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These findings surprised me slightly.  I did not expect so many students to be willing to pay for an online subscription, especially when illegal downloads are so easily accessible.  I was also surprised at how many students had access to an HBO account, even though no one that I talked to paid for cable television.  Most people used their parent’s account here at school.

To find out more information about how students might feel about this new subscription, I decided to create another radio show where I interviewed two seniors here at Umich live “on-air”. Check out the show below:

It is clear that there is a market and a demand for this subscription.  It is not surprising then that in the last few weeks, both CBS and Starz have announced plans to create online subscription models separate from their cable packages.  Netflix CEO Reed Hastings stated last month:

“Well everything we’re seeing is completely consistent with the whole society — not only the U.S. but all over the world — moving toward Internet video and Internet television. We saw Starz a week ago announce that they were doing an Internet video service, now we have HBO. Perhaps there will be other providers in the coming weeks. All the big networks are moving to Internet video. It’s just becoming a very large opportunity” (source).

I personally believe that online television will never completely eclipse the use of television sets in the home.  However, it is evident that legacy broadcasters and even regular cable channels will have to adapt to Internet culture if they wish to stay relevant and in control of the market.  The industry is rapidly changing every day and there is always another company attempting something innovative and new.  HBO has demonstrated in the past that they are up for the challenge.  I look forward to see where the television industry goes next.

Debate Position: Social Media is Making Us Dumb and Socially Awkward

The increased use of social media in modern society is leading us to become less intelligent and increasingly antisocial and awkward in our physical lives.  We live our lives online creating superficial connections on the Internet and form weak connections that do not benefit us any meaningful way shape or form.  These so-called relationships are addictive and distract us from opportunities where we can create connections in the physical world that go deeper and have more meaning.  It is easy to sit behind a laptop or a smartphone screen and passively interact with others, however

According to a new study put out by Journal of the Royal Society Interface suggests that due to increased use of social media, people are being taught to copy each other.  Instead of trying their own analytical thinking, individuals simply looked to their fellow participants for responses.  As the researchers concluded, social media use may “decrease the frequency of analytical reasoning by making it easy and commonplace for people to reach analytical response without engaging analytical processing…. Increased connectivity may eventually make us stupid by making us smarter first.”

As this viral video shows, social media is causing us to miss out on important social interactions happening all around us.

The video shows an emotionally moving poem that discusses how shallow relationships really are on the Internet.  “Friends” and “followers” can never be substitutes for having true deep connections in one’s life.

Below you can see a helpful infographic that shows how social media is actually making us anti-social:

social-media-socially-awkwardI like this infographic because (besides it being pleasing aesthetically) it shows how this is not just a problem in the United States.  Every person in a developed nations is facing this problem.  I fear for a future where we all live our lives online and completely fail to create any deep or personal connections in a real lives.  I suggest we keep all these points in mind next time you are in a social setting with other people.  Maybe try putting down the Facebook mobile app and attempt to talk to another person face to face.

Getting the News From Uncle Brian

November 17, 2014 Broadcast

For this assignment, I decided to watch NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams as my broadcast news choice.  This is because first and foremost, I grew up watching Brian Williams every night with my family and he honestly feels like a member of my family.  The family routine is to watch the broadcast at 6:30 while cooking dinner and then eating a dinner all together at 7 pm.  Watching any other broadcast would feel like a betrayal of his trust. Now onto the show itself…

The story choices were pretty much exactly what I expected.  They opened with the big headlines of the day, which included Ferguson and the Grand Jury decision, the ISIS execution of an American aid worker, the record snowstorms across the country, and the Bill Cosby rape allegations.  Screen shot 2014-11-18 at 8.12.58 PMThese are the stories that I had been reading about all day on the Internet and there were no major surprises or revelations that I had not learned throughout my daily browsing of Internet stories.  However, I did enjoy the broadcast’s use of sound clips, interviews, quotes (seen to the right) infographics, pre-recorded bits, and on the ground correspondents.

The tone of the broadcast was serious yet simple.  Every issue was tackled very lightly without much time for detailed context or detail given the constraints of commercials and broadcast schedules.  They have a very confined schedule and format every night that is hardly ever broken.  This means that even if a story, such as the Grand JuScreen shot 2014-11-18 at 8.14.41 PMry decision in Ferguson, could take up more time than say winter storms, it probably will not get it.  The show has to keep moving forward.  I’m sure this is attractive to the older audience that simply wants an overview of everything Brian Williams thinks they should know.

Every thing in the broadcast seemed very newsworthy to me, including the little piece that the broadcast ended with.  It was the perfect balance of human interest (little girl prodigy wants to go to Mars and has been training since birth) with news (NASA is still moving forward with the space program).  You can watch the clip below:

http://www.nbcnews.com/nightly-news/13-year-old-girl-plans-be-first-astronaut-walk-mars-n250451

 

Profile on Michael Ausiello

One of the most prominent television bloggers today is Michael Ausiello, founder and editor-in-chief of TVLINE (my go to site for all television news).  michael_final_v2Ausiello, like me, grew up as a television junkie who could recite trivial entertainment facts off at the drop of a hat.  While as a student at USC, he became a television critic/columnist for the daily newspaper.  After college he spent years working for both TV Guide and Entertainment Weekly magazine, where he started an insanely popular column, “The Ausiello Report”.   He prized himself on always having the best spoilers in the biz and thus people came to him for all their guilty pleasure news.  Due to the large following he had gained throughout the years, he left Entertainment Weekly in 2010 to start his very own website and news source, TVLine.  He now has a team of seven writers with him and 1.17 million Twitter followers.  (Source: Author Bio)

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Michael is known for getting such great information because he is genuinely a friend to the people in the television industry.  Below you can see a clip of him interviewing Retta from Parks and Rec at Comic Con (you may remember her from my audio project earlier)

Below you can see the homepage of TVLine, Michael’s website.  There are tabs for spoilers, recaps, show renewals, schedules, and different news updates:

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In doubt on what to watch tonight? Check out what Michael has to say.

Unfortunately I was unable to interview Michael for this assignment but maybe one day he’ll be my boss and I’ll get back to you!

An Inside Look at a Student Television Studio Floor

The first site you see as you enter Studio B in North Quad at the University of Michigan.
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First activity of the day: make sure you know your crew position
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Communication between the talent and the director is key

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There's always a lot of downtime as shots are set up.
There’s always a lot of downtime as shots are set up. Floor Assistant Olivia Adams takes a much needed moment of rest when she can get it.
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Rehearsals are essential for every member of the crew and the talent.
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After every rehearsal, the director will give notes on what went well and what needs to change for the take.
Quiet on the set during a take.
Quiet on the set during a take.
Every session ends with the important wrap-up from Professor Terri Sarris.
Every session ends with the important wrap-up from Professor Terri Sarris.

If you found this interesting and would like to see what this class session looked like from inside the control room, make sure to check out Katrina Shafer’s blog.

x Makenzie

Is the Curved Television the Next Step?

Samsung has recently put out the Curved UHD 4K, a television that has a curved screen to fully immerse viewers into what they are watching.  It is meant to create an IMAX-like screen for your very own living room.  Below is a video advertising what Samsung says is the television’s full potential:

According to them, TV has never been better.  This new innovation allows customers to watch television like never before thanks to a picture resolution 4x that of a typical HD TV and a screen that is curved to give greater depth to the images.  A viewer can be sitting on their living room couch and yet be fully immersed into the world of a show or film.

But does this technology really work as well as Samsung claims?  A writer for CNET lived with one for over a month and reported back on how he found it.   As he says: it is a complete gimmick.  They are too expensive, distort the images on the screen, and are way too small to really create true immersion.  Much work has to be done in order to really make this tech worthwhile.

Only time will tell if this innovation will take hold.  If SAMSUNG makes them bigger, cheaper, or more even image-wise will it grow?  I don’t know anyone with the Curved TV yet, but will we all be watching television on a curved screen in five years?  Will television production changes their ways to better adapt to this screen, such as creating scenes with greater dynamic depth of field in order to create a more spectacular image on the screen?  I remain very optimistic and hopeful on the future of this technology.  Now if only I had an extra $8,000 laying around in order to purchase one.  Maybe one day….

Infographics – New Journalism

As a woman who is currently hoping to pursue a career in the television industry, it is disheartening to learn that the percentage of women working in the field is very low and only getting lower. Every year we find there are less female directors and writers than male. Even with shows such as Orange is the New Black doing so well, women are still severely underrepresented.

Indiewire recently released a huge infographic that gives a lot of information about women working in showbiz in an easily accessible form.  You can see it below:

women-directors-infographicThere are many things that work well about this infographic.  Aesthetically, the colors and fonts are all very pleasing.  The eye flows easily from one batch of information to the next.

The infographic also employs many different types of charts successfully(including pies charts and bar graphs).  It is easy to see the differences between these charts so that the reader does not become confused.  That way, they can give you a lot of information without any of it getting lost in the process.

The charts themselves are also very well done.  They give context by showing a wide range of years to show how these statistics are unfortunately not changing much.  They also use large, bold font to highlight the most important facts.  For example, Screen shot 2014-10-21 at 11.32.58 PM in this section of the infographic, they realized that the most effective way to get the information out was simply to state it in bold black and red letters over a white background.  This captures the reader’s eye instantly and gets the point across.

This type of data collection and presentation differs from traditional journalism in that it simply throws out a lot of information and makes the reader decide what they want to do with it.  It can be a little daunting or overwhelming for a reader.  A newspaper article may give one of these statistics but then explain why/how that came to be.  They would give more context and flavor around the facts in order to grab your attention.  I think both ways can be effective when done correctly.