TV distribution is no longer in the hands of the moguls.
The rise of the Internet, combined with the relative in-expense of high quality production equipment, has provided a shift in the power structures of the media. Consumers are able to influence and dictate how they access their desired content. Meanwhile those responsible for the actual content creation have a new-found power-base. No longer are artists bound by the whims of established production and distribution companies.
Who needs 20th Century Fox when TV producers can go DIY?
Musicians have taken to platforms like MySpace to promote their self-recorded wares, writers and journalists have launched careers through blogs and other similar web-based publishing platforms, and film-makers have taken to platforms like YouTube to distribute their work.
Save up to 50% on a year of Crikey
Choose what you pay, from $99.
While short-form video certainly has a place online, faster broadband speeds have opened the door to longer-form content. Film makers can now quite easily distribute their narrative works via the Internet. Further to this, however, is the rise of ‘backyard’ TV serial productions that are now making their way online.
Just as sci-fi fans were responsible for the first popular online short-form video (‘Troops‘ being a notable example), they seem to be leading the charge with TV-like serial content.
One of the best known TV series being produced for the web is Star Trek: Phase II. Continuing the adventures of the Star Trek: Original series characters in the fourth year of their five-year mission, this fan TV series offers a visual style which strongly resembles the original series and has garnered a loyal following among the Trek fan community. Sure, some of the casting choices are a little off, the series is certainly inspired and you can sense the love and enthusiasm that has gone in to the production. Phase II has generated enough attention and goodwill that several actors from the bona fide Star Trek TV series have appeared in episodes, reprising their characters. Walter Koenig, George Takei, Grace Lee Whitney, and Denise Crosby have each made appearances.
More interesting is the recent release of Pioneer One.
Distributed primarily through bittorrent websites is Pioneer One, a low-budget pilot for a TV series. Shot for just US $6000, the 35 minute pilot tells the story of Homeland Security agents exploring a mysterious crash. The man involved in the crash is revealed to be that of a Russian Cosmonaut. Pioneer One offers a strong sci-fi concept that is grounded by its street-level government investigation which is best described as The X-Files meets Rubicon in tone.
The producers of Pioneer One, also responsible for the similarly distributed feature film The Lionshare, plan for the series to run seven episodes. For the remaining six episodes to be produced, the production is reliant on donations from viewers. It’s an interesting model by which to see a TV program produced. With Pioneer One made on a very small budget by people donating their time to the project, its a relatively simple proposition to expect that enough money may be raised by the viewers. It would be interesting to see whether enough fans could rally around a much more expensive project (for example, while something like Firefly might have been able to generate enough cash to see episodes funded in this manner, could the same be said for shows with a less rabid fanbase, like, say, Dirty Sexy Money)?
Pioneer One is certainly good enough to be interested to see what might happen in the second episode, however there are a significant number of weak points that are hard to ignore. The script is poorly paced and relies on far too many cliche’s of the genre, the actors don’t quite feel genuine in their roles (which is a shame, considering how natural the performances were in Josh Bernhard and Bracey Smith’s film The Lionshare), and the sets are far too staged (not once ever feeling ‘lived in’). A bigger budget may have helped conceal the flaws in the show. That said, nobody can accuse the production team of lacking in ambition. The story is large in scope and the pilot almost gets away entirely with it.
The revolution in television is no longer restricted to the way viewers interact with its form and distribution, but now independent producers are set to make their presence known. It won’t be long until more productions similar to Pioneer One start making themselves known, in a way similar to the indie film explosion of the 1990′. The series may lack the budget of polished productions, but they’ll be wholly original and avoid a cookie-cutter approach (if for the sheer fact that market testing will be an impossible expense).
Notions of what is and isn’t ‘television’ are about to get a whole lot more complex.