One of the best series online, created and hosted by a comedian who already has one megahit on his résumé, just concluded its sixth season.
The name of the series, “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee,” doubles as a succinct description of it. In each episode, usually running 10 to 20 minutes, Jerry Seinfeld (who, it turns out, is a major car guy) meets up with a comedian. They drive around, stop at a restaurant or diner, have lunch or coffee or both, and talk, usually about comedy and comedians.
The show has featured legends of the business (Don Rickles, Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner), some megastars (Jay Leno, David Letterman, Jon Stewart), some up-and-comers (Amy Schumer, Trevor Noah), and some you may not have heard of (Gad Elmaleh).
As short as they are, the episodes manage to cram a lot of humor and insight into those few minutes, not to mention some great (or infamous, such as an AMC Gremlin) cars. Even the sponsorship, in the form of product placement, is done with humor and innovation.
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Oh, and one other thing. It’s a television show you won’t be seeing on TV, unless you’re one of those technically adept enough to stream video to your TV.
“Comedians in Cars” is a series viewed from its own website and crackle.com. Viewers can select from an archive of episodes, or choose even smaller bite-sized portions in the form of compilations from shows of guests discussing various subjects.
“Comedians in Cars” and other shows like it may not be the wave of the future — the demise of so big and well-established a business model as that employed by the broadcast and cable networks usually takes years or even decades to play out.
But such shows are more than a tiny niche or a small experiment because of the names behind them and the viewership they’re drawing. They represent one more nibble out of that business model that is finding itself slimmed by new ways to watch video.
That, plus a news item of the past week, is important to keep in mind in the continuing debate over what to do with, about or to Click, the municipal cable-TV and Internet service.
Competitive demands on viewers’ time aren’t going away. Most Internet users already know YouTube (owned by Google) as a nearly unlimited vault of full movies, concerts and sports events, not just snippets from each (whether those videos are there legally is another matter).
The content providers are having to adjust to changing viewing habits, by offering up full shows on demand, or carving them up so fans can watch a few highlights (this has especially happened with late-night talk shows).
Now comes the made-for-Internet show such as “Comedians in Cars.” On “Live From Daryl’s House,” singer Daryl Hall chats and plays with fellow musicians, some well established, others of a much younger generation, in a highly informal setting and format. Jay Leno, himself a huge car guy, hosts “Jay Leno’s Garage,” although it’s hosted on NBC’s website.
Expect more of this, since there’s great appeal to both viewers and program creators. For people such as Seinfeld, this new approach provides much greater creative control with fewer headaches. Viewers get something new to watch instead of the 943rd rerun of an episode of “Seinfeld.”
The only ones not so enamored of this trend are the cable companies, which in many ways have only themselves to blame by forcing consumers to pay for channels they have no interest in. Some like Comcast and Click, which offer both conventional cable and broadband, may figure that if the cable customers are paying them less, the broadband customers will pay them more for the capacity to watch all that Internet-delivered programming. But the industry’s financial model isn’t set up that way, which is why cord-cutting is such a problem for them.
Thus at least one cable/broadband provider is doing some experimenting of its own, by offering a cable-like package to its Internet customers. Comcast announced last week that it is beta-testing a service called Stream, on which “Xfinity Internet customers can watch live TV from about a dozen networks — including all the major broadcast nets and HBO — on laptops, tablets and phones in their home. It includes thousands of on-demand movies and shows to watch at home or away and even comes with access to TV Everywhere and a cloud DVR so you can record all your favorites and watch them later.”
The service is priced at $15 a month, and Seattle is listed as the third city to get it (it’s supposed to be available throughout Comcast’s operating territory by early 2016).
Will services like this be enough to keep consumers from relying entirely on what they can find on their own for viewing? If not, then the cable operators and programmers will try something else. They can’t afford not to.
Bill Virgin is editor and publisher of Washington Manufacturing Alert and Pacific Northwest Rail News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.