by Ned Canty
Before becoming general director of Opera Memphis in 2011, I spent five years as festival director of the New York Television Festival. Founded in 2005, the NYTVF aimed to be the “Sundance of Television,” leveraging advances in technology to help uncover a new generation of storytellers. It debuted in October 2005, to great success. Two months later, YouTube launched, and instead of the marginal expansion of traditional talent pipelines we were aiming for, we found ourselves in the midst of a massive shift in how content was created, consumed, and paid for.
I have a vivid memory of sitting in a diner with a highly placed TV executive who was convinced his entire world was disappearing before his eyes. TV would be dead within three years, he said. In many ways he was right. Eleven years later, the traditional television business model is a distant memory, torn to shreds by webisodes, streaming services, and a universe of nearly infinite choice. His world is gone, no question. But what replaced it is a new golden age of television. I don’t know about you, but my DVR is bursting with absolutely amazing art right now. If the DVR is empty Amazon, Netflix, and Hulu are standing by to deliver a century of amazing storytelling. TV is dead; long live TV.
I think about this a lot when I meet with colleagues from opera companies in other cities. All of us are watching a slow-motion version of what happened to TV a decade ago. Business models that were stable for years are crumbling. Subscriptions, long the backbone of any arts organization, are declining. Audiences are buying tickets later and later, and in the case of millennials, often waiting until the day of the event to decide what to do on a Saturday night. More people today are cultural omnivores, attending a wide variety of events, rather than committing to a full season of one genre — something that makes perfect sense given the abundance of choices.
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