Sunday, July 15, 2012

TV: On other media

As the way Americans view content changes, so will the providers.  The summer has seen that some old dogs can learn new tricks while others may simply need to be put down.

The success story is Yahoo! which really hasn't had an image -- let alone a brand -- since the late 90s and the cowboy yodel of "Ya-HOO!"  Their 14 episode Burning Love series concludes Monday and it's created a lot of buzz.  Oh Boy It Never Ends, Wet Paint, NBC Chicago's Scott HuverBruceBlog, and the  Houston Press are just some of the places it's popped up in the last two weeks.

These days, the Sunnyvale-based internet company generally only gets attention for bad news like the revolving CEO-door or the just-use-12345-because-we-can't-protect-your-password problems.  So the success of Burning Love is something of a surprise for the company which shut down Yahoo Buzz three months ago and has little to promote their success on.

But the Ken Marino and Erica Oyama web-comedy announced Yahoo is more than trying to compete with YouTube, it's really in the original content business.  While YouTube continues to flounder with its own offerings.  Not only does the promise that they'd deliver 100 new channels of exclusive content this year seem laughable but so does the one thing they've learned: Attractive shirtless men increase video views.  It's taken them half a year to grasp that and you have to wonder if they really thought the nearly 20 million views of Shania Twain's "Man! I Feel Like A Woman!" official video on VEVO was all because of the talented and attractive Shania?  VEVO only launched at the end of 2009 and, in less than three years, "Man! I Feel Like A Woman!" -- a 1999 video -- has been viewed nearly 20 million times?  We'd argue the eye candy (below) didn't hurt.


 YouTube's far from the only one struggling.

Hulu launched in March 2008 and by now they know damn well that, come summer, over half their audience tunes out.  Somewhere you can hear proud parents thinking, "Well Jill and Johnny are getting some fresh air and going outdoors for a change!"  No, they're still inside, they're just using something other than Hulu for entertainment.

Summer has always revealed Hulu's weakness -- and we say that as two (check our archives) who've frequently been asked each summer to note that there is new content at Hulu.

Hulu's real popularity comes from being able to catch Revenge the day after or to watch a Parks and Recreation episode several times, enjoying the laughs non-stop.  In addition, there are the bored who web surf looking for something and come across Hulu.  During the commercial broadcast TV season, that's not a problem because they offer many of the shows on NBC, ABC, Fox and the CW.  But when summer rolls around and those networks stop airing (for the most part) new episodes of anything (or worse, airing episodes of Wipe Out!), Hulu struggles for 'hits' and 'clicks.'

It's hard for us to work up sympathy this go round because this problem comes up every summer.  This year things are worse than usual because they don't have In Plain Sight.  The USA Network's long running show wrapped up a brief fifth and final season with only eight episodes -- and they wrapped up while network TV was still airing new episodes of hit shows.  In the past, In Plain Sight aired over much of the summer and allowed Hulu to have a show that brought in viewers.  Now they've really got nothing.

But this is something they should have planned for.

They didn't.

That became clear when this summer's round of please from Hulu started.

'We've got a new Hulu exclusive,' we were told more than once.

They're referring to Prisoners of War.

Prisoners of War is about what happens when imprisoned military members are released by the 'enemy.'

If it sounds familiar you may be thinking of Showtime's Homeland.

If it sounds familiar, it's because Homeland is based on Prisoners of War.

Prisoners of War was known as Hatufim when it aired in Israel in 2010.   Before you think, "Oh, Hulu's gotten the rights to remake it," stop yourself.

Hulu's just re-airing a two-year-old foreign series.  Sky TV is re-airing it in the UK.  It's a syndication deal and it was never going to air over the air in the United States.  In fact, Hulu demonstrated real stupidity in streaming this show.

Israel?  Prisoners of war?  For a number of  Americans, Hulu just took sides in the never-ending Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The reality is that Hulu was just too stupid and too starved for content to think clearly.

But reality will be lost by those who stream even a few moments of Prisoners of War.

That's because the series isn't entertainment, it's propaganda.

In the early sixties, when liberal artists felt shunned by the mainstream, they used films like Dr. Strangelove to convey messages.  In this decade, it's conservatives who felt shunned and they've resorted to shows like 24 and Homeland.  While the earlier group used humor to show what could go on, the newer group has only fear to offer.

So Homeland tells American audiences that the US Marine who is finally back home, he may actually be a sleeper for Muslim terrorists.  The X-Files warned you to "Trust no one," but really meant, "Don't trust the government."  Howard Gordon worked on The X-Files and 24 and copied (though he prefers "created") Homeland.  And with each new series, Gordon gets closer to the ugliness inside him that he wants to pretend is inside the United States.

In Israel, Prisoners of War was an immediate hit and is now considered an Israeli-TV classic.  That's not at all surprising for a country whose people are encouraged to hate and/or fear neighbors.  Gordon apparently wants to do something similar within the US.  It's not really working.  Americans with Showtime have looked at Homeland and found it wanting.

21 million people legally have Showtime and yet the average Homeland episode couldn't even break 1.5 million in viewers -- despite repeat showings.  And despite the usual idiots of the Water Cooler Set praising Claire Danes' bad performance which is all eye make up and grunts -- it's like sitting through The Mod Squad yet again.  And that's good.  It's good that the Howard Gordons haven't yet figured out how to sell hate and fear to a mass market.

Prisoners of War has figured it out.  And watching it, you have to wonder if Triumph of the Will were only two or three years old, would Hulu be eager to grab it for summer viewing and promote their 'exclusive' showing of it as well?

Hulu is the screw up of summer and Yahoo, which has everything else seemingly falling apart, can take pride in the success of Burning Love.  However, Yahoo being Yahoo, they screwed that up as well.

A ton of new eyeballs watching a Yahoo original series and Yahoo forgets to use that moment to promote their other shows?  So this summer's success may be a one off.  Even if it is, it's one more than Hulu or YouTube can point to.

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