Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

New Player Shows Giants the Future of Television

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

New Player Shows Giants the Future of Television

Article excerpt

Netflix knows a little about transformation. It's worth remembering that it managed to go from the largest user of the Postal Service to the largest source of download traffic on the Web in the span of months, not years.

CORRECTION APPENDED

Apple and Google were back making waves in the television world last week, with reports suggesting they were renewing efforts to use technology to transform the box in your living room.

But Netflix already has.

Netflix knows a little about transformation. It's worth remembering that it managed to go from the largest user of the Postal Service to the largest source of download traffic on the Web in the span of months, not years. After a big stumble on pricing in 2011, Netflix recovered and then some, using its expertise in technology and algorithms to gain more than 36 million users worldwide, a number that will probably grow when earnings are announced Monday. Its stock has already gone up more than 200 percent in the past year.

But few would have guessed that Netflix's software expertise would extend to content produced by top-flight actors, directors and writers. Beginning this year, Netflix streamed four original series - - "House of Cards," "Hemlock Grove," "Arrested Development" and "Orange is the New Black." The shows got generally good notices, kicked up a great deal of chatter and, drum roll here, got nominated for 14 Emmys. It was the first time an Internet-only service had earned a seat at the big-boy table in television.

The Emmys were the most prominent marker of change, but hardly the only one, in a week full of headlines about what television is becoming. It's not their first foray, but if Apple and Google move further into the television space, they are sure to collide, not only with traditional players, but with Netflix, Amazon, Sony and Intel. And Aereo, a so-far small but persistent player backed by Barry Diller, won another court victory for its plan to totally upend broadcast networks, by streaming their content without compensating them.

Meanwhile, what was broadcast television up to? Squabbling yet again over retransmission fees, with a standoff between CBS and Time Warner Cable that could trigger a blackout of content, driving audiences to other ways of viewing. The only thing not changing was the steady increases in cable bills.

The future of television -- a place where cable is not the only answer for average viewers -- just got a little closer.

Netflix has earned its place in that future. It won some victories on the programming side by funding creators and staying out of their hair, an approach invented and perfected by HBO. Given that HBO pulled in 108 Emmy nominations last week, Netflix has a long way to go. But David Bianculli, a professor at Rowan University in New Jersey who blogs at TV Worth Watching, suggests there is another way of looking at it.

"It took HBO 25 years to get its first Emmy nomination; it took Netflix six months," he said. In that sense, Netflix is more like Pixar than Hulu, showing that a Silicon Valley company can produce creative, successful programming.

Ted Sarandos, Netflix's chief content officer, told The New York Times that the Emmy nominations solidified the idea that "television is television, no matter what pipe brings it to the screen."

He's right. Television used to come over the air or through the coaxial cable. Now it seems to come from everywhere, on all kinds of devices.

Both Google and Apple continue to hover around the honey pot of television. Apple's rumored effort at making a television set has been like Godot -- much anticipated, never arriving -- but in the meantime it is in talks with distributors like Time Warner Cable and programmers like Walt Disney to explore collaboration on apps.

Google has been in talks with program providers, including cable channels, about distribution over the Internet, a more complicated approach -- the cable systems that distribute programming would be left out of the mix -- with a higher risk in execution. …

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