Kickstarter, Yahoo, Netflix, Amazon: Is this what we mean by Video On-Demand?

When Yahoo Screen announced it was to bequeath a sixth season onto the former NBC comedy ‘Community’, thousands of fans were grateful that someone had finally come forth to give them this mythical batch of new episodes.

There were some mixed opinions across the internet, however – season five had felt like a natural stopping point for a show bleeding cast members and prone to network power struggles for its entire life. The last 2014 season had brought along some new highs and some spectacular episodes but there was definitely a sense it was running on fumes. But due to the power of the people – and the power of a certain hashtag – ‘Community’ will be back, probably in 2015 for a limited run.

This comes not long after Netflix resuscitated ‘Arrested Development’  in a populist move to further encroach on the traditional television industry. With a similar cult, digitally literate fan base as ‘Community’, the fourth season of ‘Arrested Development’ was a similarly smart move to not only continue a fine comedic show but to divert a large amount of internet traffic and noise in the streaming company’s direction.

Due to the loyalty of its fans, ‘Veronica Mars’ recently made its feature-film debut, seven years after the series had finished its run on television. Instead of protest-like campaigns of the above two fan groups, ‘Veronica Mars’ fans backed the production through crowd funding website Kickstarter. It wasn’t just their own private time they spent as part of a loud fan base, but their own money, too.

Amazon Prime went a different route last year, by producing a series of pilot episodes and letting the public vote for their favourites. While it may still be up in the air whether this was a cost-effective move compared to the normal network pilot season – I would presume it was – once more the show’s audiences lead the way in ensuring selected series made it to ‘air’.

These developments have brought a new shade of meaning to the phrase “on-demand”. Used to show video platforms that allow you to stream programs as and when you like – Hulu, Netflix, iPlayer, Youtube – “on-demand”, or “VOD”, is an expression pushed to the fore in this remarkable period of change in the media industries.

Yet surely the above examples highlight a different sort of “on demand” philosophy. It would seem that if a large enough amount of people request the continuation or resurrection of a series, there is a company ready to step in and develop the project. ‘Arrested Development’ and ‘Community’ are two examples of streaming services picking up popular axed series that almost act as ‘launch’ series.

So perhaps we are not in an era where audiences will watch whatever they want, when they want. If trends like this are to continue, then it is the industry itself which will have to cater to its audience’s demands. I don’t use that verb accidentally – where once television may have been a fast food chain, where audiences are given a menu and series come in mega sized batches of 24 episodes. Instead, this more refined landscape is a top of the market restaurant in which the chef’s seem are all too willing to resource and dish up whatever off-menu requests its punters ask for.

We’re still in the dark about whether this is a successful business model or not. But it is another recent development in a period of fascinating industrial change.