Fox made a huge gamble with Lee Daniels' new show “Empire,” and it looks like it could pay off. Nearly 10 million people tuned in Wednesday night for the first episode of Daniels’ hip-hop melodrama, making it the highest debuting show on Fox since 2012, and the first surprise hit of the TV season.
But there’s still a lot of uncertainty in Television Land. Josef Adalian is the west coast editor for our partners at Vulture.com and we asked him how the popularity of streaming platforms — including Netflix and Amazon — will change the TV industry in 2015.
This year, the non-HBO-subscribing public will get what they want, and that is the ability to stream HBO shows via HBO Go without paying for cable or satellite coverage. What does that mean?
It means it's a further step in an "unbundled" world, where you don't have to subscribe to big cable in order to get programming. And, for people who are happy with having Netflix and maybe HBO Go, this is an alternative, though it's going to be interesting to see how big of a success this is.
There's been a lot of Internet hype over the last couple years with people demanding this, but there are also a lot of people who are very happy right now stealing or sharing someone else's passwords or BitTorrenting shows. Are those people necessarily going to step up and pay $12 a month? Maybe not, but it's symbolic more than anything in that it signals that one of the big legacy companies in media is willing to break the traditions of how TV is sold.
The Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas just had a big announcement from Dish. They announced SlingTV. How does that compare to what HBO's up to?
Well, it's a more comprehensive sort of offering. Instead of wires, instead of having a satellite dish or a cable box, you can get a package of a certain number of networks that's delivered directly to your tablet, your computer, and your smart TV. I don't think the Dish package is that attractive right now — it's $20 and there are no broadcast networks, no AMC, no FX — but you can get ESPN and Disney.
What we're going to see over the next year or two is a lot of experimentation — people are going to by trying different things. That's what CBS did last year. CBS was the first broadcast network to offer one of these standalone packages that allows people the flexibility of watching stuff. I don't think it's been a big success and I don't sense a lot of buzz about it, but it's an experiment, it's a foot in the door to see, Alright, is this the future? Is this what people want?
What does it all mean? Is this part of the step of unbundling, where people are tired of paying $120 for their cable bill when they're only watching five or six channels? Is this the future of "a la carte" TV viewing?
This is an experiment to see how much appetite there is and how much the Millennials, who have been screaming for this, represent a real segment of the viewing audience, or if most people are going to be happy to keep paying their cable bills, extraordinary as they are.
But nobody's happy to pay them!
No, nobody's happy and they keep going up, and it'll be interesting to see if this competition forces rates down. It probably won't, but big cable got greedy over the years, and they may pay the price for that. But again, these are unanswered questions and I don't quite know what will happen, though I do know that there's going to be a lot of activity around this in 2015.
There are a number of cable channels — you talk about A&E, USA and TBS — that all had double-digit declines last year. What's happening within cable and original programming?
Now we've reached a sort of saturation point, possibly a bubble. There are so many hours of original cable programming now, so many scripted and unscripted shows, that viewers can only watch so much. As a result, you're seeing cable networks pay the price, and it's harder than ever for them to break through with a big hit. "The Americans" on FX, for example, is one of the most critically acclaimed shows out there, but it didn't do all that well.
It's a combination of factors. Cable is still very strong as a force of programming — some of the biggest shows on TV now are on cable, and "The Walking Dead" is the biggest show among adults under 50 — but the big story of 2014 that will continue into 2015 is that cable is no longer immune, and they're facing the same troubles that everyone else is.
2014 ended with Amazon making a big splash with "Transparent," one of the most acclaimed shows of the year. As you look forward in the streaming world, what do you think the future is going to be for streaming sites like Netflix, Amazon, and even Vimeo?
In essence, streaming networks have arrived. A couple years ago, right before "House of Cards" debuted, no one really took the idea of streaming video seriously. That's changed, so now when a big project goes out to the marketplace and agents take their clients around town, they stop at Amazon, they stop at Netflix.
However, they also are going to have some growing pains. This week it was announced that a Chris Carter project, which Amazon had [introduced] at TCA last summer and which they said would be debuting within the next month or two — it turns out they never even shot another episode.
This is the man who made "The X-Files," this is no ordinary Joe.
And it's sort of embarrassing that somehow through this whole process, that [show] went away. Netflix renewed "Marco Polo" for a second season, but there's a sense that it didn't quite live up to the Netflix standard. And if you look back at 2014, even though Netflix's past original shows continued to do well and "Orange is the New Black" got even bigger perhaps, they didn't launch any new hits. They're going to have the same pressure. Now that they've proven they can succeed in the marketplace, people are going to be saying, What's next?
You can answer my biggest unanswered question for 2015: what is the one show or series that Joe Adalian is looking forward to in the new year?
I am excited about the final season of "Mad Men." Other than that, there's just so much. [laughs]
You can read Josef Adalian's full article at vulture.com.