News broke Monday afternoon that Yahoo is set to produce two original comedies to air on their website at the end of this year and the beginning of 2015. Paul Feig, the writer and producer of “Freaks and Geeks” as well as the director behind the 2011 summer blockbuster “Bridesmaids,” will serve as executive producer on “Other Space,” a half-hour space comedy about a group of adventurers who just happen to find an alternate universe. Mike Tollin, who executive produced the hit series “Smallville” and “One Tree Hill” will bring his talents to “Sin City Saints,” an eight-episode series following a newly-anointed professional basketball team in Las Vegas.
While the merits of each series are apparent in the talent attached as well as the original concepts, the bigger question looming over the news is whether or not Yahoo can direct the high volume of site users to its new venture. The web giant has had limited success with its original content, with its sole highlight being “Burning Love,” a satire of “The Bachelor” from Ken Marino. Its success seems to have stemmed from a large ensemble cast populated with a younger generation’s favorite actors including Kristin Bell, Nick Kroll, Malin Akerman, Adam Scott, Michael Cera, Paul Scheer, and even box office behemoth Ben Stiller.
The rest of their original programming, including Yahoo News with Katie Couric and reality content like Sunday Dinner, doesn’t resonate strongly enough with the general public to alter the Yahoo brand into a Netflix-esque entertainment destination. They’re useful, entertaining, and run clean — the site’s model even resembles the Netflix side-scrolling layout. Even Netflix had trouble attracting viewers to their original content before the “Arrested Development” announcement and the “House of Cards” roll-out. It took a major get to gain an audience. Yahoo is trying to follow the same model, similar to how Amazon began their run with the beloved John Goodman on “Alpha House” — and having Bill Murray in the pilot couldn’t have hurt (though Amazon relies heavily on the “viewer-run” angle, allowing users to vote on the best pilots every year).
Competition across television is fierce. Not only are broadcast stations competing with cable networks and internet-only entertainment, but now movies and television are in direct competition with one another. The theatrical lifespan of films is shortening and VOD is becoming more and more popular. Allowing viewers to watch whenever they please certainly provides them with more opportunities, but not necessarily more time to actually sit down and give new programs a try. Yahoo has a tough road ahead to convince people these shows are: a) up to broadcast standards, a stigma dwindling as time passes, but still relevant to companies new to the field, and b) their programming is more worthy of viewers’ valuable time than the competition.
Perhaps the answer lies not in the company’s name, brand, or marketing platforms, but instead outside of it altogether. Yahoo will launch the series through its video service, Yahoo Screen, a platform accessible via the Web, an app, or through internet-streaming set-top boxes like Apple TV, Roku, and Amazon Fire TV. These products are arguably making the most important strides in attracting customers to internet-only original programming by making each website into a channel. Users can plug their chosen equipment into the TV, scroll through the listings from their satellite or cable providers, and then with the push of a button, keep browsing options through Google Chromecast or Apple TV.
In an era when most homes are always online, viewers can see their programming options on the screen in front of them without getting up and moving to another screen. They don’t have to sit in their less comfortable desk chairs to watch shows online. Laying on the couch and using another remote to utilize a different element of our entertainment experience is something we entertainment junkies have sadly already grown accustomed to doing (thanks mainly to home theater systems and expensive universal remotes). Yahoo may only have to worry about driving viewers to their website for a few more years, as these new inventions become more and more affordable to consumers. Until then, it could be tough sledding for the latest arrival to the party.