In Vertical Vision: Deregulation, Industrial Economy and Prime-time Design, Jennifer Holt discusses the political and economical contexts of the television industry that set a programming standard, leading to the conglomerate format we see today. Hold organizes her article in a chronological compilation of regulations towards the entertainment industry, which she sees as a consequence of “political philosophy behind broadcast regulation over the last twenty years” (10). Most relevant of them all, the Financial Interest and Syndication (Fin Syn) Rules had the largest impact over the organization of the entertainment industry. As a move to favor the free market, based on free competition, these regulations installed by the FCC forced studios and networks to merge, in order to afford cost of production and distribution.
One of the aspects raised by Holt that stood up to me in her analysis was the concept of ‘must see TV’. A product of synergy between big companies of the entertainment business, television became a refined production, based on specific demographics, and capable of expanding to a global audience. Studios today are destining their budget to open out their shows to a broader market, which could only be possible through partnership with different companies within the industry. Taking Sony Television, for example, a studio independent from distribution networks, their current investments are focused on hiring ‘premium writers’, the key to producing ‘premium content’. These huge, popular productions inform the change in television industry referred by Holt. In the new, contemporary sense of ‘must see TV’, the distribution channel becomes secondary and artist name speaks up. When multiple options for watching television take over our screens (cable, home video, pay-per-view, online streaming, etc.), the viewer is no longer worried about the channel through which is accessing that episode. Once unavailability is no longer an obstacle, the choice for a television series is then conducted by its content and quality.
The so-called ‘straight-to-series’ form of production, the kind that skips the pilot format and go straight to series development, is an alignment with this movement towards valorization of the artist’s work. Based on independent productions, this form of development can be seen in Netflix Originals – which aren’t really produced by Netflix, but by hired studios, since Netflix is exclusively a distribution platform.
The way Jennifer Holt understands the structure of the television industry as determinant of programming is an interesting perspective that many times ends up forgotten when analyzing TV shows and their contents.