LOS ANGELES — THE FUTURE OF TELEVISION CAN BE SUMMED UP IN ONE WORD.
MORE TECHNOLOGY. MORE STARS. MORE OUTLETS. MORE ONLINE.
This fall, TV fans will see more series from more different platforms and places than ever before. It's a deep smorgasbord of programming for just about every taste imaginable.
And there may be no better example of the new kind of star this brave new world will create than Eric Ochoa.
Four years ago, the fresh-faced 26-year-old made a video spoofing the cholos — Spanish street slang for gangsters — in areas around his Paramount, Calif., neighborhood, donning some fake tattoos and a thick accent for footage he plopped on YouTube.
After assuring some real cholos that he wasn't disrespecting them, Ochoa found something else: an audience. These days, his YouTube channel has more than 500,000 subscribers, and the videos have generated more than 151 million views.
Now Ochoa is trying to turn his online fame into a cross-cultural TV enterprise, developing a series of 10-minute videos with Mun2 (pronounced mun-DOS), the NBC-owned cable network focused on young, second-generation Latinos.
If it all works as planned, Mun2 will inject some better production values and create a series of six 10-minute videos based on a new character, Officer Diaz, that will debut first on Ochoa's YouTube channel and Mun2's online platforms, later airing on television in one hourlong broadcast.
"I think a younger person who is watching TV (on an iPhone or iPad) in their room, while their parents are watching TV in the living room, they might only watch for 10 minutes," said Jose Marquez, vice president of interactive strategy for Mun2 and Telemundo, who sees Ochoa as a video star for a generation raised between cultures with an explosion of technology at their fingertips.
"What it means to be second-generation and Hispanic is slowly becoming a more mainstream, youth pop culture trend," Marquez said. "It's our job to figure out this audience and be with them as they figure out who they are."
Online: 'the wild, wild West'
This is the new future of television, where a compelling series can come from anywhere and just might be consumed everywhere.
It's a future where online outlets known more for cataloging content — such as YouTube, Netflix, Yahoo! and Hulu — are developing original series pilots just like cable channels and the broadcast networks.
And it's a TV future where even a megastar who once earned $1 million an episode on network television can find new inspiration and success.
"The Web is really useful if you've got an idea that's unconventional," said Lisa Kudrow, onetime star of NBC's comedy megahit Friends, whose online show Web Therapy has become a conventional series on Showtime, nominated for an Emmy award in 2012.
"We could never have pitched this to a studio or a network. It's just two people on a computer screen and it's all dialogue, no action," said Kudrow, who developed Web Therapy as a series of improvised scenes featuring a dysfunctional therapist and her clients, who all interact on online chat software. Past "clients" have included Meryl Streep and former castmate Courteney Cox.
"The Web lets you see your vision through," Kudrow added. "So far it's been really fun and we've gotten away with it, you know?"
It is working well enough that others are getting into the act.
At the Television Critics Association's summer press tour last month, Hulu announced two original series, including an interview show featuring ex-CNN star Larry King. YouTube unveiled new channels featuring original content developed by producers from One Tree Hill, Smallville and Black Swan, starring actors such as Jennifer Beals and America Ferrera.
Anthony E. Zuiker, who created CBS's popular and widely duplicated forensic drama CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, touted this fall's release of Cybergeddon, a 90-minute drama centered on cybercrime, in 25 countries at once through Yahoo!
Zuiker is convinced the online world is one or two years away from dropping the idea that becomes the first blockbuster video success to rival cable and broadcast television.
And he wants to be the guy who delivers that idea.
"This is the wild, wild West, in terms of how much money you can make. It's one hit away from breaking it all wide open," he said. He also noted, nevertheless, that a Texas college student who recorded a jokey video reading the lyrics to the pop hit Call Me Maybe still drew 20 times the views of a short video he spent $60,000 to create for his BlackBoxTV YouTube channel.
"It has to have that online panache that feels shareable, that gets people talking," Zuiker said. "We're all trying to figure that out and put it into high-quality content, and that's a tremendously fun challenge."
Audience: 'on-demand attitude'
Of course, this explosion of programming is also rewriting the rules of television in lots of unexpected ways.
First, an audience already fragmented by cable and satellite TV has been splintered further: by the rise of video services such as Netflix and Hulu, by the increased use of digital video recorders, by devices that display online and digital video on television sets such as Apple TV and even by Blu-ray players, many of which also can access a range of online video services.
FX Networks president John Landgraf expects the growing "on-demand attitude" of the audience to bring something else: commercials specifically targeted to you.
"Part of what the consumer is saying is, 'I don't like this deal that says for me to watch a one-hour show, I have to give 17 minutes of my time to watch a whole lot of commercials,' " he said. "Imagine if the deal was different and we said, 'You watch 54 minutes of content and we're going to ask you to watch six minutes of commercials and every one of them would be relevant to you.' I could see a win-win there."
That kind of innovation is key to reaching an audience increasingly using other screens while watching the big one in their homes.
According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center, half of all adult cellphone owners use their phones while watching television, most often to keep themselves occupied watching other content during commercial breaks.
Ask Fox entertainment president Kevin Reilly, and he will crow about how his network has 210 million "friends" in the social sphere and that one out of every four conversations in the social sphere are Fox-related.
His idea is simple: Use social media to bend consumers back to watching Fox shows, even when they may be taking a Twitter break to avoid commercials.
And Reilly hopes to extend that dynamic to outlets like Hulu — co-owned by Fox, NBC and ABC — by inserting links to other Fox shows to mimic the flow of a network TV schedule.
"People used to watch our schedule and watch things hammocked in between popular shows," he said. "We now need to be able to re-create the network effect wherever these show go, so they can see our promos and our ads wherever the shows go (online)."
A network executive's dream: making that dopey advertisement for Fox's new Mob Doctor follow you across cyberspace, even if you're not watching the network.
If all this talk of content and delivery systems seems too complex, it's worth noting there are some media companies still focused on the traditional ways of serving up television, most prominently CBS.
CBS Corp. president Les Moonves is almost bursting with pride as he describes how limited the company's online strategy is: Only old shows appear on Netflix, there's no content on Hulu (the site links to CBS.com) and limited episodes of series are available on CBS.com.
For Moonves, the future of TV is about dabbling in just enough other stuff to keep its core broadcast and cable TV businesses strong.
"I fear (online platforms) dissipating what our main business is," said Moonves, who has the luxury of programming to network TV's oldest and most traditional audience. "Don't mess with the motherlode."
Eric Deggans can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8521. See the Feed blog at tampabay.com/blogs/media.