Cutting the cord in Hollywood

Amazon Studios’ latest web-original comedy pilot, Betas, is set in Silicon Valley, but it’s being filmed in Santa Monica and other locations in and around Hollywood. So, too, are a growing number of made-for-web productions.

According to a tally by the non-profit group FilmL.A. Inc., which issues filming permits for LA. County, location filming for web-original productions generated 1,633 production days in Los Angeles last year, up 46% over 2011. Web-based media now account for over 10% of all episodic series production.

Much of that activity involves Hollywood-level budgets and talent as well.  Betas stars Ed Begley Jr., and the pilot will be produced and directed by Michael Lehmann, whose credits include the cult film Heathers, HBO’s “True Blood,” Showtime’s Dexter and FX’s American Horror Story.  Another newly greenlit Amazon pilot, Browsers, stars actress Bebe Neuwirth. Netflix, of course, is spending a reported $100 million on House of Cards, and just placed an order for 10 episodes of a new sci-fi series Sense8, which will be produced and directed by the Wachowski brothers, creators of the Matrix trilogy.

In the long run, the emergence of a content production economy that is not ultimately dependent on the traditional network gatekeepers either for financing or distribution will be far more disruptive to the pay-TV business than mere on-demand access to existing TV content. Viewers watch content, not platforms. And if the revenue from subscription fees paid by cable and satellite customers is no longer needed to sustain high quality content, those fees and the distribution infrastructure they support will no longer be sustainable.