Hey Korra fans: Digital distribution is not the deathknell it used to be!

by Keidra Chaney

rfcq1w1vyxrvqfvsoscuIn yayboo news from San Diego Comic-Con yesterday, it was announced that Avatar: The Legend of Korra would be pulled from Nickelodeon to air online only for the remainder of its third season, due to low ratings in its original airtime slot. Korra fans were publicly distraught at the news, many believing the show had been cancelled outright, and show runner Bryan Konietzko took to Tumblr to reassure fans that the show was not cancelled. (With the most adorable picture ever!)

I stopped following Legend of Korra closely after the first season, as I don’t have cable and Amazon Prime doesn’t have season 2 (and beyond that, Korra didn’t grab me as much as the first Avatar series did, but I know it was going into some really interesting directions about race, ethnicity, and class and I will definitely catch up with it later. )

But I was surprised at the the level of dismay that so many fans had about the move. I get it on one level, it appears that Nickelodeon did a crap job in promoting the third season in the first place, so this was just adding insult to injury. On the other hand, it’s interesting to me that in the age of Netflix, at a point where there’s an entire generation of television viewers that rarely turn on an actual TV to watch their favorite shows, that being moved from cable to online distribution is still seen as a step down.

Personally, I think digital is the perfect place for Korra and other shows that don’t have a neat fit anywhere else. It’s where we are going to see greater success for so-called shows that push the boundaries of storytelling. (Avatar is a slow burn series and has the kind of pacing that seems slooooooooooow to folks who don’t watch a lot of anime.)

Konietzko even said at SDCC that the move to digital was pretty much inevitable:

From io9:

It’s no secret that Avatar, especially Korra, is not typical Nickelodeon fare. And so they’ve had kind of a hard time fitting it into their programming. But basically the Book 2 finale, the numbers were insane when they streamed it, when it went on Nick.com. It was the biggest event they had that year. And that show, digital downloads for that season was amazing. And, as you’ve seen, not so much on the channel. So it’s just part of this shift over …

In general, I think the move toward digital-only distribution is increasingly going to be the savior of many great shows, rather than its deathknell. And I think it’s where we’ll see show concepts that more often place women and people of color as central characters in a way that network and cable still can’t seem to embrace fully.

Television has been much more accommodating to the shift to digital than the music industry and we’re seeing more show-runners and producers that see digital as an chance to pitch a radical idea rather than a last resort for a show that “didn’t find its audience.” Community’s ninth life at Yahoo is another good example of digital distribution as an ideal platform to serve a niche to an enthusiastic, if not huge, audience.

In a way, one of the bigger roadblocks may indeed be the perceptions of TV fans who, even as they consume digital TV content, see digital distribution as the dumping ground for TV ideas that didn’t make it to primetime, rather than potentially a platform for great shows to shine.

A lot of that has to do with access to high-speed internet and the state of the internet service providers for consumers. For Korra fans in areas that don’t have high-speed Internet, this is pretty crappy news and I do sympathize. And as more high-quality, must-see shows make their debut online, it will make the issue of Net Neutrality more of a real thing for those consumers who still don’t quite understand What This Means For Their Weekend.

A lot can change in the space of a few years: what would have been a demotion for Korra a few years ago is actually an opportunity in 2014. In the coming years, as we see more great serial programming from digital, perceptions will change too, and we may be at the point where a move to digital is seen as a step up.

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