Black Sails on Amazon

Black-Sails-Title-Sequence-by-Imaginary-ForcesI’ve been looking forward to Pirate mini-series Black Sails for awhile now, mostly, I have to admit, due to the involvement of Bear McCreary (Battlestar Galactica, The Walking Dead, DaVinci’s Demons etc)on the show’s scoring duties.  McCreary set up his own label last year and has used it to distribute fairly definitive soundtracks of his tv work even when the shows are still on-air, and his Black Sails album was released in January soon after the series launched in America. The Black Sails score is primal, rough, almost chaotic- in melody it reminds me of the great Battlestar Galactica (across its five seasons and soundtrack albums the most sophisticated, complex and rewarding television score I’ve ever heard) but with its simplistic orchestrations (historically quite accurate) it manages to sound fresh and spontaneous and would appear to fit the show like a glove.

Well, appears to, as I haven’t seen the show yet. I’ve been waiting for a channel to be announced with UK airdates and the silence has been deafening, but now Amazon has announced that it has bought the series and will have it available for subscribers to its Lovefilm/Amazon Prime services on April 4th. That’s all eight episodes too. I won’t have the time, but if I did, I would be able to watch the entire series next weekend.  Its like being gifted a boxset. Whereas DaVinci’s Demons season 2 starts April 4th on Fox with me having to watch it on a traditional weekly schedule.

Things certainly seem to be changing with how people watch television content, and players like Amazon and Netflix are making strong moves. How successful this is, or how it even pays, is something for debate. I already have my doubts on how Sky do things and how it effects its content, never mind the even lower subscriber base that Amazon and Netflix enjoy. The BBC famously cancelled Ripper Street a few months ago (eventually renewed in a deal with Amazon, funnily enough) due to perceived low audience figures of a few million, while Sky’s top-rated show at the time, Arrow, had just 400,000 viewers and was deemed a success.  My concern is that although Sky are happy, what does it do for the mainstream audience perception of shows like Arrow here in the UK when so few people actually get to watch it or perhaps have even heard of it? Or are people just turning to DVD/Blu-ray boxset releases now?

I recall back when the big networks here, BBC and ITV regularly showed American hit shows and they had huge audience figures/media attention (remember Twin Peaks, or JR getting shot in Dallas? Doesn’t happen anymore).  The producers of the content are happy, they get their money (and Sky for instance pays handsomely, easily outbidding the BBC etc), but while Game of Thrones is huge, imagine how even bigger it would be if it was appearing on BBC 1 at 9pm? Television is so fragmented these days. So many programmes lost on so many obscure channels. One of my favourite shows of the last several years was Chuck; it was a funny adventure show with great characters, it was a family show, almost retro in its approach. Would have been a perfect fit on something like BBC 2 primetime, but I guess most people here in the UK never even heard of it. I don’t think the last season has ever even been aired over here; I had to import the Blu-ray to find out how it all ended.

How does such diluted availability of so much content effect the financial viability of that content? How many shows failed that never had a chance, how many great shows do we miss simply because we don’t know if/where/when the show is on? Is this the future of television? Its a bit bewildering.

So anyway, I have to wonder how many people will be watching Black Sails this weekend… but I’ll certainly be giving it a shot.

3 thoughts on “Black Sails on Amazon

  1. I think the userbase of services like Netflix and Amazon Prime may be relatively low right now, but it also skews young — i.e. The People Of The Future. Will such services replace traditional broadcast TV? I can’t see it, especially as you currently need to subscribe to three or four services to even get all the content.

    Plus, it’s all well and good releasing an entire series in one go, but what does that do for the communal viewing experience? Kills it, pretty much. Figures from House of Cards season two showed viewers watched anywhere from one episode to the entire season on release day, with the average being something like two or three episodes. There are TV review websites that post two reviews for every episode of Game of Thrones (one for book readers, one for newbies), plus however many other news pieces and speculation articles throughout the season. I can’t imagine they’d do the same if it was released in one big lump. Meanwhile on Real Telly, “appointment TV” like Broadchurch, Sherlock or Doctor Who continues to enjoy high viewing figures. Though saying that, I believe 40+% of Sherlock‘s final figures were people who recorded or watched on iPlayer. Nonetheless, ‘talent’ shows, celebrity ‘reality’ contests and soaps remain the top-rated things on TV, and they rely on a daily/weekly schedule.

    Talking of Game of Thrones specifically, I hear season 3 was the best-selling DVD box set in the UK for a decade. It may not get top figures on TV, but people are still happy to get at it other ways. And that doesn’t even account for those who pirate it, or even those who watch it when it comes to Netflix, etc. But then, this is a big breakout hit around the world — not sure how much it happens for every programme.

    Then again, it’s funny how little audience is required for something to have a “huge impact”. Scandinavian drama seems to have taken over TV and pushed a minor revolution in how we think about our own crime dramas, yet even at their peak programmes like The Killing attract below 2 million viewers. But then, people happily catch up on series later now — that’s always been the way with books or films, but I’m not sure it’s happened with TV until recently. It must mean the overall viewer tally is (far?) higher than any overnight, or even weekly, viewing figures could suggest.

    1. The Sky + box/Tivo element is another factor I neglected to mention in my post. I’m currently watching Bates Motel which has been on my Tivo since before Christmas. I was in the weird situation last night of watching episode 6 of season one whilst the Tivo was busying itself recording episode 1 of season 2, which I hadn’t realised was on the telly. I dare say I will let the Tivo do the biz and only watch season 2 when all its episodes are sitting ready for me, like I have the first season.

      The irony is that I’m watching the show well behind most everyone else and can’t discuss it with anyone from work, as either they have seen it and I don’t want it spoiled or (more likely) they have never even heard of it and I’d just bore them senseless talking about something they have not seen. No-one I know, for instance, has seen Hannibal. Which is partly what I was getting to in my post. Its all so fragmented these days. With three or four channels there was more of a communal sharing of content as it was limited in number and only available at a set time, now though, well, anything goes.

      I’ll never forget the whole ‘Who Killed Laura Palmer’ thing from Twin Peaks, how it pervaded society and the media. There’s much less of that now. I do miss that communal experience enforced by limited (as few as three, that I remember in my childhood) numbers of channels and having to watch the shows when actually on-air.

      Further irony, considering how fragmented it all is; in many ways television programmes have never been better than they are now. I rate the ‘new’ Battlestar Galactica as one of the best things I have ever seen, but most will only remember the 1970s original, having never had opportunity to watch the new one. In some alternate universe, BBC2 showed that BSG every Monday night at 9pm to rave reviews and great viewing figures (with The Wire following it at 10pm). Good night on the telly, that!

      1. The recording and/or downloading of TV programmes can throw everything out of whack, and doubly so when the UK airing is months after the US. For instance, last year I missed The Americans on ITV, but then changed my mind. It was only halfway through on telly but the early episodes had disappeared from catch-up services. I acquired them by ‘other means’, and ended up watching so fast that I finished the season before ITV did.

        On the BSG point, by the by, it seems to me the critical acclaim the new series received has led to it overshadowing the original. Perhaps that’s a generational thing, but there seem to be a lot of people who are fans of the new show who’d never dream of watching the old one. It’s the kind of thing people continue to catch up on (vis-a-vis my last paragraph before), whereas the ’70s one is kinda for nostalgics only. Then again, it’s still not that old, so…

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