A Shift in Star Power: Goodbye Silver Screen, Hello Small Screen

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True Detective. Fargo. Big Little Lies. Feud. Westworld.

In recent years, more and more Hollywood heavyweights have made the shift from the silver screen to the small screen.

What started this migration? And will the trend continue? Or will it implode?

We sat down with our CEO, Jason Kassin, to get his take.

The once-held stigma that American actors shouldn’t appear on the small screen has essentially vanished. Why do you think that is?

Jason Kassin: Unlike British actors, who’ve always been willing to work in television no matter the pay, American film actors typically shied away from it. Prior to the digital boom we’re immersed in now, the idea was that you had to keep yourself “precious”. In other words, American film actors wouldn’t do too many commercials or be on a TV series because they were essentially selling too much of their brand. But with the rise of streaming, that mentality has completely gone away. The quality of what one can do in a non-traditional television setting has been turned on its head.

Big stars are coming back to TV because it’s being recognized as a higher medium than it used to be. There is a huge appetite for material created by the Amazon’s, Netflix’s, and Hulu’s of the world. Not only are the budgets phenomenal, but the storytelling is better. What they’re able to do is radically different than what was being done on network television just 10 years ago. There is more artistic freedom and flexibility.

In terms of freedom and flexibility, how does VOD storytelling differ from the traditional linear format? What about it is so enticing?

Jason Kassin: The biggest draw of subscription-based model television is that they have limited commercials or none at all. If you have commercials, you’re beholden to the advertiser. And the advertiser doesn’t want to offend anyone; they just want to get people to buy their product. That’s essentially the agenda of commercial television. And once there is an agenda, you’re curtailed in what you can and cannot do, what you can and cannot say –– no matter how well-intentioned it all is. As soon as you remove the notion and rhythms of commercial breaks, you’re free to create edgier content.

With such a high demand for quality content, what will traditional TV networks have to do in order to keep pace with streaming platforms?

Jason Kassin: I think their content will become less artificial. It will have to; they won’t have a choice. This isn’t to say that it hasn’t transformed already. Because it has. But in order to keep pace, it will become even edgier. I don’t think it’s an accident that Roseanne is coming back which was praised for being the first sort of "mirror-held-up-to-working-class" TV series of its day. And now the reboot is sparking controversy for tackling issues such as the presidential election, opioid addiction, and non-binary characters. It would have been unthinkable to tackle this kind of stuff on major network television 15-20 years ago. And now if you don’t, your show is probably missing something. So, we’ve definitely seen a shift with network television. And we’ll continue to see a shift with the types of shows, the depth of the shows, and the way people tell stories.

What kind of challenges do bigger budgets, in-demand talent, and multiple storytelling outlets present?

Jason Kassin: As Hollywood and Silicon Valley continue to pour massive amounts of money into the TV ecosystem, it’s going to make business operations even more complex. Acquiring big name stars for a television series not only means more oversight and higher pay, it also requires participation statements being run regularly and greater visibility into the performance of shows. I suspect that an increase in transparency will become a competitive differentiator for entities competing for A-list services. To accommodate, media and entertainment companies will need to have a unified sales and finance system. The complexities of reporting, revenue recognition, and contributor payouts will only increase in this new era.

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