The powers that be at HBO just unveiled HBO NOW. A standalone streaming service not fettered to HBO’s traditional programming slate. It’s a direct response to the bald fact that fewer and fewer people actually watch programming when it first airs, and many desperately want to cut the cable “cord”.
But HBO NOW is going to more than just a standalone service. Read some samples of how HBO’s President Michael Lombardo and CEO Richard Plepler see the service evolving (these quotes are from linked article above):
“It may be two, 15-minute pieces,” Lombardo says. “And they may be two brilliant 15-minute pieces. Why is that not something we should lean into?”
With HBO Now, HBO can experiment with new types of programming outside of its existing 30- and 60-minute format, as there is no daily schedule that content has to fit into. Shows—or films, or any type of content—will simply be arrayed for viewers to click on; there is no lineup. HBO Now also affords HBO a less risky platform where not every show requires a series commitment. If something’s not working, the network can just take it down.
“We’re not worrying about filling an hour or half hour of time. We want to tell stories in a variety of lengths. I think as artists have heard about HBO Now, we’ve started some really interesting conversations.” One A-list director has already pitched HBO Now a series of three-minute movies—the idea is that people can watch a new one every day on their phones or tablets over the course of several months. HBO CEO Richard Plepler told him: “We’re in.”
So what is all this?
It’s an experiment in DURATION (see my prior post on this point) — any running time GOES — and contributes to my general theory that DURATION and not necessarily CONTENT will be the guiding principle for the digital age.
And this is what makes this particular area of fanatical interest to me: You’re dealing with both a crisis of FORM (what does a narrative look like anymore), but also CONTENT (the powers that be and storytellers have grown so accustomed to traditional narrative paradigms they don’t necessarily know what stories look like under the new DURATION). So it’s more than just a FORMAL problem. It’s a FORMAL problem that bled over into a CONTENT CRISIS. We have plenty of content, but what does it look like in the new form? They don’t know, so they’re resurrecting the greatest hits and seeing how they work CHOPPED AND SCREWED (yes, i just invoked DJ SCREW).
It’s also (potentially) not a great sign for artists. Shows don’t require a series commitment, and the network CAN JUST TAKE IT DOWN IF IT’S NOT WORKING. Translation:
HBO is going to throw anything against the wall and see what sticks:
Since there’s no LONG-TERM COMMITMENT to a vision, will CONTENT get a chance to grow organically? Will HBO put the financial backing and marketing budgeting behind low-budget digital-based programming that could match what they would do for something like TRUE DETECTIVE, when they’re in for millions and have Hollywood stars? In my experience, the more RISK, the more a company SPENDS, the more they’re willing to fight for an audience, and pay through the teeth to get it.
The flip side: Maybe this could be a grand experiment in artistic freedom, wherein artists may have the time to nurture a following and experiment in a low-risk environment. That of course would be IDEAL.
What is does say is this: HBO knows it’s programming needed a JUMP START, and things stand to get crazy over at HBO NOW. It could be a narrative laboratory. FRANKEN-TV…