The future of the TV Series Industry

I’m a big fan of TV series like “24″ and “Lost”. My wife and I eagerly watch episode after episode and get completely involved in the characters and the storyline. In fact, we begin to identify with each character and their mannerisms to the extent that we “latch” onto the main figures. We would give way to howls of outrage if say Kiefer Sutherland who plays “Jack Bauer” were to be replaced by someone else!

Image Credit: TCM Hitchhiker

Virtual Kiefer Sutherland

My greedy Game Theory mind immediately latches onto this scenario as a means to extort money out of Television Series producers. In my earlier article on the benefits of holding back patents, we discussed the problem of holdups. Holdups are situations where party A has the potential to cause massive damage to party B after the initial assessment has been made and work set in motion.

In the case of patents, this meant that if you have invested millions in making a factory, then I can hold you up by acquiring a patent on a crucial process that is mandatory with your current setup. In the case of the TV series, this means that an actor like Kiefer Sutherland who has already been ingrained into the hearts and minds of millions of fans, has the ability to hold up FOX networks. Each series has 24 episodes. Suppose after the 10th episode, Sutherland demands a 300% raise from FOX, he would be holding up the network.

The key element here is that Sutherland is irreplaceable as “Jack Bauer” and that after airing 10 episodes, a substantial investment has already been made. These two factors are critical for any holdup and not just with TV Series.

It’s useless to say that FOX has a contract with Sutherland, and that Sutherland will forced to continue acting at a pre-arranged rate. Acting is an art, and Sutherland’s “performance” can just drop, he can lose the special way in which he says “You gotta trust me on this!”, or he can just come down with an inexplicable fever. There are many ways in which he could execute a holdup without breaking his contract.

So why doesn’t he? I guess there are two reasons. One, Sutherland may be a “good guy” and not greedy. Fortunately, as we say earlier, all humans are not rational. After all, he’s an actor and not a game theorist! Second, his reputation will suffer irreparable damage if he were to indulge in this kind of behavior. Assuming that Sutherland wants to pursue an acting career after the series gets over, it’s in his best interests to be a “good guy” and stick to the contract. In other words, a “repeat game” ensues.

But if Sutherland wanted to just amass one time wealth and live out the rest of his life in luxury, there would be nothing to stop him from holding FOX to ransom for huge sums of money. This means that TV networks should also be careful of actors who are getting old and are thinking of retirement. These actors have nothing to lose by their reputation being damaged, and can capitalize on their years of being decent by one massive holdup were they to ever get a chance! It short, never trust an old fart.

I can imagine that in the future, virtual actors will eventually replace real ones, and not just because they’re cheap, but because holdup problems can be averted. After all, virtual actors are your slaves and don’t have an agenda of their own. Given this inevitable future, I would be very worried if I were an actor just starting out, since my future is at stake. If everyone thought like this, then there would be a shortage of young actors and the asking price for young actors would go up…….

But no one thinks that far. Not young actors anyway. So don’t expect a shortage anytime soon. But the future of the TV industry is definitely set for a change. You can bet on that.

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