How Long Will Distribution Channels Matter?

Earlier this week at the SocialTV NYC meetup the group spent a bunch of time talking about alternative video distribution along with content production and ownership. While Scripps Networks Interactive, my employer, has made it a point to own the overwhelming majority of our video library over the years, many TV networks have not pursued the same path. AMC Networks first owned series was The Walking Dead while SyFy continues to fill their schedule with a mixture of licensed and owned shows and movies. The one thing that most people agreed on was that ownership is going to be essential as viewers move beyond the singularly focused cable box to an overabundance of choices to receive their entertainment.

We’re already seeing major brands move to co-production with streaming providers. In May Netflix and CityTV launched Between, the first show to not drop an entire season on Netflix. It looks like the six episode test was a success as a second season was announced a week after the first season ended. Just today weget word that Sesame Street, the 45 year old stalwart of PBS, has crafted a deal with HBO. We’ll see the number of new episodes doubled this year in exchange for a nine month exclusivity window on the platform before it airs on PBS.

Early in 2014 Disney made waves when it announced it would partner with Netflix to introduce 4 new Marvel heroes culminating in a series based on The Defenders. A year later Daredevil launched to rave reviews with a current Tomatometer score of 98%. At this years TCA Disney went on to announce that a new series would be delivered every 6 months for the next several years. These characters all exist in the same Marvel Cinematic Universe that launched in 2008 with Iron Man and currently has films slated through 2019 along with two additional shows airing on ABC.

We’re seeing similar moves in the DC Comics TV landscape. The CW launched Arrow in October 2012 followed by The Flash last year. The crossover episodes between the two have been successful enough to launch a third show on CW, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, slated as a midseason replacement this winter, along with a digitally distributed animated show based on the character Vixen. CBS greenlit Supergirl for this Fall, a show created by the same team as Arrow and The Flash. We’ve since learned that CBS is open to crossovers between shows. While CW and CBS are technically sister networks, it’s refreshing to see both networks willing to work together on this. Buffy and Angel fans are still asking why we couldn’t get this back in 2001 when Buffy left The WB for UPN, leaving Angel behind at CW’s predecessor. And if that announcement wasn’t enough to make a fanboys week, we also got word that the titular character of NBC’s cancelled show Constantine will also make an appearance on Arrow this season. All of this means that we’ll have a shared universe between CW, CBS and NBC because all of these shows based on Warner Brothers owned characters were produced by DC Entertainment.

So I got back to my original question, how much longer will the distribution channel matter? In five years when I go to re-watch Arrow from the beginning on Netflix or a WB owned OTT service will I remember that it originally aired on the CW? Will it matter when Marvel announces at San Diego Comic Con 2020 that the 40 disc MCU collector’s box set will contain all 22 of the MCU movies along with every episode of SHIELD, Agent Carter, Daredevil and the rest of the Netflix shows?