For those of you that love the great American pastime of TV we are living through the Golden Age. I don't care if you watch on a flat screen or a computer or a mobile device, programming is at an unrivaled high.
Mad Men. Game of Thrones. Homeland. The Daily Show. Louie. The Family Guy. 30 Rock. The Walking Dead. Breaking Bad. Girls. Boardwalk Empire. Friday Night Lights. Okay, Friday Night Lights is off the air but it's too good not to mention. Should I go on?...
The Killing. Modern Family. The Good Wife. Episodes. Suits. Curb Your Enthusiasm. Dexter. Revenge. The Colbert Report. Downton Abbey. Shameless. Boss. I'm getting exhausted and I haven't even mentioned high quality trash TV, um, The Kardashians. Yes, I've watched it and enjoyed it. So have you. Admit it. I think I've made my point. And, sorry if I omitted any of your favorites.
TV has never been better. Better writing. Better stories. Better characters. I've never been as excited for a film opening as I am for a season premiere. And, after the first episode they just keep coming week after week. And when the season ends its a little sad.
What changed? Why did TV get better and smarter and more culturally relevant? I can only think of one reason. It had to.
There are no longer 3 stations developing programming. Between networks, cable and subscription outlets there are over 20 plus channels creating original content. All of them are vying for the most valuable of assets, our time and our attention.
It became more imperative to make a quality product as TV faced a host of competing distractions. Not even counting non-theatrical programming like 24 hour sports, the endless news cycle and cooking shows, there are video games, social media, websites, blogs, apps, online shoppping, and dare I say human interaction. If a show is lucky enough to somehow garner your attention, they better do whatever they can to keep it. What better method than providing highly entertaining and evocative programming.
TV Programmers know that attention is the ultimate currency. It's what draws advertisers and subscribers into their spheres and ultimately what pays their salaries. With their monopoly on America's free time eroding, they had no choice but to improve. Is there a reason marketers haven't come to the same conclusion? To put it simply, why aren't we making better ads?
The means of distribution be it broadcast media, the web, or even In-Store isn't the issue. The quality of the experience is. Of course there are exceptions. There has always been a percentage of good and innovative work being produced even prior to the advent of the remote control, the DVR and streaming video. Faced with these options to avoid our messaging, major brand advertising have decided to become more conservative in their choices.
TV figured it out. They had to get better to remain relevant. Why haven't the folks who are subsidizing them?
Some marketer or researcher may disspell this theory of ads as entertainment. And if they do, they need to have a substantive conversation with a teenager about adveristing. The conversation will go something like this.
"Do you ever pay attention to ads, you know TV commercials? Those things you fast forward through on your DVR or Hulu puts on before letting you watch your show."
They think for a moment and stare blankly. "No."
You probe further. "Do you like that Old Spice guy or any of those Nike spots on the Olympics"
Another blank stare. "Yeah, I like those."
Now you've got them. "I thought you said you didn't watch ads."
"I don't....I only watch the good ones." Now they've got you.
Marketing is no longer in the business of "And, now a word from our Sponsor". This Generation and the ones following don't want to be interrupted. They want to be entertained. We need to stop creating ads and start creating programming.
Or as Kurt Cobain said to his generation, and the inspiration for the titular line of this post,
With the lights out, it's less dangerous
Here we are now, entertain us
Smells like Teen Spirit.