From programmes to programming: why are tech firms making TV shows?

Is a TV show made by an online streaming service still simply a TV show?

TV used to be simple. Broadcasters would make programmes, and if those programmes didn't deliver stellar ratings they would be canned.

If they survived they'd be sold on every conceivable format from DVD box set to printed tea towels, and after every other avenue had been exhausted the shows might be sold to one or more streaming services.

That wasn't ideal for fans of show streaming. Some good shows took so long to appear that by the time they were available for streaming, half the internet had already torrented them - and some of the programmes canned for poor ratings really deserved to be given a second chance.

For the streaming services, the answer was simple: pay the programme makers to work for them, not for the networks. So they did.

A brand new old idea

Paying to get your own exclusive content is hardly the newest idea around: traditional broadcasters, satellite broadcasters and cable firms have been doing it for decades.

In many respects the new model is awfully like the old model: if you want to see all of the shows when they're first streamed, you'll need to subscribe to a whole bunch of services.

Instead of programmes starting off with traditional broadcasters and making their way to online services, these shows start on the streaming services and eventually make their way to more traditional media. For example Netflix's Lilyhammer was sold to BBC Four in the UK and House of Cards was sold to Showtime in Australia and TV3 in New Zealand.

What the firms are filming

Tech firms' home-made programmes tend to fall into two categories: original properties such as Netflix's wildly successful House of Cards and Orange is the New Black, and cult programmes that have been axed by the networks after one or more successful series.

The most recent example of the latter is Community, whose sixth season will be made for Yahoo Screen, but Netflix is at it too: it picked up Season 4 of The Killing, the US version of Forbrydelsen, after it was cancelled by AMC in 2013. It also revived the sitcom Arrested Development in the same year, six years after the show was cancelled by Fox.

Here's what content the various online services are cooking up.

Yahoo Screen


Yahoo has picked up the cult commedy Community, renewing the hope for six seasons and a movie

Yahoo Screen replaced Yahoo Video in 2011 and the US service has largely flown under the radar ever since. The announcement that the sixth season of Community would be shown on the service was greeted with a chorus of "Yahoo what?"

The service has exclusive rights to show Saturday Night Live content, recently hired broadcaster Katie Couric, and has commissioned two comedy shows, Other Space and Sin City Saints. "This is just the beginning," says Yahoo head of strategic video programs Bonnie Pan, who promises more original content this year.



PSTV will be aimed at gamers, and free on PlayStation consoles

Sony kicks off its original programming this year with comic book series Powers, which will be free on PS4, PS3 and PlayStation Vita. More announcements are expected this summer. Speaking to The Wall Street Journal, Sony Pictures Entertainment CEO said that Powers "overlays extremely well with the demographics of the PlayStation".

Xbox Entertainment Studios


Microsoft is working on a documentary about Nas

Microsoft is making its own TV too: Halo 4 developer 343 industries and movie legend Steven Spielberg are making a live-action Halo series. Microsoft's Xbox content division is also working on a series of documentaries - including one about rapper Nas - and a reality programme about football.

Former CBS executive Nancy Tellem heads the division, which was founded last year and promises "a range of scripted interactive content" for Xbox 360 and Xbox One. As with Sony, expect content targeted largely at gamers; we've already submitted our script, Space Marines Battle Nazi Robots In Space, and hope to begin filming soon.

Carrie Marshall

Writer, broadcaster, musician and kitchen gadget obsessive Carrie Marshall (Twitter) has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to all kinds of magazines and websites as well as writing more than a dozen books. Her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, is on sale now. She is the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR.