Internet TV: have we reached the tipping point?

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Jerry Seinfeld is back with a weekly show. Every week, America’s best-loved comedian picks up a friend in his car, they drive around chatting while being filmed by Go-Pro dashboard cameras. Sounds like a hit TV show, right? Well, it is, except that you can’t see it on television. Seinfeld’s Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee is made exclusively for the internet.

Here’s the promo for the new show:

Britain’s Independent newspaper reports that “Seinfeld’s decision to forgo television — in favour of Crackle.com, a Sony-owned site — comes at a watershed moment for television’s relationship with the internet.”

Seinfeld’s decision seems to come at a tipping point for internet television. For the last decade, the internet has been the place where unknown talents have burst onto the scene and secured themselves places on network television shows. That was the path to fame and fortune. Now it seems reversed. Bona fide Hollywood stars are increasingly making content strictly for the web. The same article cites a few major examples:

Tom Hanks launched his new project — a dystopian science-fiction animation called Electric City that he created and voices — via Yahoo!. And the veteran TV anchor Larry King announced he was coming out of retirement to launch a weekly chat-show. Netflix is venturing into TV production, with shows such as Lilyhammer and Arrested Development, while Will Ferrell these days seems to spend most of his time online in Funny or Die sketches.

The internet and television have been linked together from a hardware point of view for many years. Internet-enabled televisions are increasingly seen as a standard, social media can make or break a new show, and online communities spring up and organise themselves around major television shows.

But the rise of new viewing formats, like tablets and smart phones, has impacted heavily on viewing habits and is forcing a change in mindset from content producers. This is further reflected in increasing adspend for the internet, and where the advertising dollars go, you can be sure that the stars and their programs are not far behind.

Mexican billionaire, Carlos Slim, one of the richest men in the world, has thrown his considerable weight behind exclusive internet content. He is financing Ora.TV, an internet based TV network that “will have a slate of shows of varying lengths and will stream them via the internet to computers, phones and television sets in the United States, Latin America and elsewhere, bypassing traditional television distribution systems”, according to the New York Times. Ora.TV is where Larry King will be debuting his new show. Slim has said that digital television is ‘primed for exponential growth.’

But it’s not just the economics of the business model that are attracting talent. Established stars feel they are able to take more risks online, they can try out material that would never be allowed on a network show, and they don’t have to play the long, political game that is required for a major television release. Shows can be more spontaneous, looser and a lot edgier.

In many ways, this feels like a golden age for internet television. The infrastructure is all there, but it’s yet to be dominated by any major corporate players. The talent is ready and available and willing to push the format with risky content. In a few years time, we may be looking back at this as a time that passed all too quickly.

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