Best of the Year: The Biggest News Stories of 2015

You guys, so many things happened this year! Like, multiple things per day! Alas, some news items were more important than others in the grand scheme of television industry power dynamics—sorry, the ordering and subsequent ignoring of Cheerleader Death Squad. In this here feature, I'm going to highlight some of the most notable stories of the year and remind you why they'll likely have long lasting effects on TV in 2016 and beyond. Step into my time machine, and let's remember 2015 together!


Late night TV plays musical chairs

This is a holdover story from the previous year, when it was announced that The Late Show's David Letterman would be departing and subsequently replaced by The Colbert Report's titular host, Stephen Colbert. That switch set off a chain reaction in late-night TV, leading to the January debut of The Nightly Show With Larry Wilmore and Colbert's Late Show in September, but the song was far from over. Early in the year, Jon Stewart announced his decision to leave The Daily Show, bringing us Trevor Noah this fall, while Craig Ferguson's criminally underrated Late Late Show gave way to James Corden's similarly underrated Late Late Show. The longest tenured late-night host in at their current show? The relatively fresh-faced Jimmy Kimmel, who's been at it since 2003. Whether or not you're thrilled with some of these choices, or don't care about late-night TV at all, 2015 was certainly a notable year for the format. A female host wouldn't hurt, though. (Samantha Bee's TBS show can't get here fast enough.)


Gilmore Girls and Full House are coming back to TV—sort of

These tentpole revival seasons are, for better or worse, normal operating procedure these days. This year, everyone's favorite streaming platform Netflix announced plans for new seasons of two shows, one that people really seemed to care about and another that mostly feels like a nostalgia cash grab (well, they're both nostalgia cash grabs, but you get it). New episodes of Gilmore Girls certainly sound great to many of us around these parts, especially with original showrunner Amy Sherman-Palladino back at the helm after a contract dispute led to her departure before the original final season. Slightly less exciting news on the recycled and resurrected shows front? Fuller House, a sequel series to the TGIF mainstay featuring much of the original cast, minus the Olsen Twins. Well, unless John Stamos goes to jail. 

In any event, both of these projects further illustrate that, by like 2020, every semi-popular show that ran for at least 25 episodes will get another run or two. I hope you're ready for additional episodes of Hangin' With Mr. CooperThe Mountain, and Arli$$, because someone out there is binge-watching them right now and crying into the cold, dark corners of social media, "Why can't there be more of THIS?" We shouldn't get everything we want; it's dangerous.


Star Trek is coming back to TV, too—in a way

Now this one is more interesting to me and not just because of the subject matter (LOL nerds). Around the same time Netflix announced its Gilmore Girls 2.0 project, CBS (our corporate overlords) did the streaming giant one better by plotting a new Star Trek series shepherded by Alex Kurtzman. It's not new Trek that's worth talking about here, however (again: nerds). Rather, I'm much more intrigued by CBS's decision to premiere the first episode of the new series on the normal schedule before shuffling it off to CBS All Access, its own subscription streaming platform that has kinda-sorta gotten off the ground in 2015. This Trek project thusly makes CBS a full-on direct competitor with the Netflixes and Hulus of the world for the first time and almost certainly points toward a trend of "traditional" networks and channels producing content that's exclusive to a web portal of their choosing. 


The NFL streams a game exclusively online via Yahoo

Speaking of web portals! For the first time ever this fall, the NFL aired a game exclusively online. The game itself between the Buffalo Bills and Jacksonville Jaguars, in London of all places, wasn't particularly noteworthy on its own, but by all accounts the live streaming on Yahoo went very well, for viewers and for the NFL. Although the NFL predictably likely inflated the number of committed viewers it had for the game, that this experiment wasn't a car-crash disaster was all that mattered. 

Moreover, reports came this month that the NFL is now courting tech companies like Apple and Google to potentially handle an online streaming package for Thursday Night Football in 2016, all of which is a sign that the most lucrative sports league in the United States is eventually going to allow millions of people without cable to watch its games. Fans have been able to access things like NFL Sunday Ticket and RedZone through various set-top boxes, but a complete streaming revolution is coming, and soon. How broadcast TV, which so heavily relies on NFL games, will fare in the aftermath is perhaps the biggest story to watch over the next five years.


The great unbundling continues

The NFL is far from alone in its plan to move its content to the streaming web space. After years and years of hearing about the unbundling of those dreaded cable packages, 2015 was the real tipping point. The biggie here was HBO's decision to offer an HBO Go facsimile called HBO Now to anyone who wanted to pay the $15 bucks a month, free of cable. Showtime, never afraid to look like the slower younger brother, introduced its own cable authentication-free streaming service, Showtime Anywhere, and later made it available as an add-on to Hulu and Amazon Prime services (it was joined by Starz in the latter deal). The pay cable giants were joined by CBS in the solo streaming service game, along with Dish's "skinny bundles" known as Sling TV, a new Apple TV complete with deeper access to TV content, and a dozen other, smaller deals that we've all probably forgotten by now.

Of course, all these moves coincided with the news that more people than ever are cutting the proverbial cord, or, increasingly never paying for that pesky cord in the first place. There are two ways to look at it this. On one hand, it's wonderful that content is more readily and legally available than ever. If you're the kind of person who just wants to subscribe to HBO and Netflix so you can say "I don't even own a TV, man," then that's possible now without stealing your uncle Jeff's HBO password (call your uncle, for god's sake). On the other hand, if you're the kind of person who wants a little more than HBO and Netflix but doesn't want cable, well, the price of these skinny bundles or add-on deals is going to add up quick—especially when cable giants like Comcast, TimeWarner, and whomever else starts charging more for high-speed Internet. The lesson is, as always: cable companies win. They always, always win.


NBC tosses all of Aquarius online after the premiere

NBC's summer period procedural Aquarius couldn't even hold our attention in the slightly less busy summer months. However, the network's decision to upload all of Season 1 online immediately after the first episode aired on broadcast TV? That was fascinating. As Tim said on the podcast this summer, this was the perfect show to experiment with, and at the perfect time; if no one ultimately watched Aquarius, who cares right? Apparently enough people did watch, as the David Duchovny 1960s cop drama scored a second season to premiere in 2016. 

NBC won't be the last broadcast network or cable channel to try this. Really, it wasn't even the first to utilize the web to build buzz; Showtime regularly posts premieres on YouTube, networks have been putting pilots on-demand or on Hulu before the fall rush for half a decade now. Still, 13 episodes are far greater than one. This is yet another sign that media conglomerates are starting to understand the multitude of ways people watch TV—and that these companies are increasingly desperate to gain some eyeballs anyway that they can.


Empire goes on an insane ratings run

In late spring, there were few things more enjoyable than Empire, and one of those happened to be watching the show's ratings continue to rise every week. That's right, for all 12 weeks that the Fox hip-hop soap was on the air in its first season, the ratings went up from the previous episode. What began as a reasonably successful show concluded its run as a cultural and financial juggernaut to a degree that the TV industry hadn't seen in ages. Unsurprisingly then, Fox rushed the show back for a fall run, where its ratings have dipped but held steady near the top of the Nielsen charts. Given how shows like this burn bright and then burn out, it's likely that Empire might be gone in like two years. Yet we'll likely never, ever see something like that three-month run, and for that, Empire deserves major recognition.


Fox ditches overnight ratings as Nielsen plans to overhaul its system

For as great as Empire's ratings were, its Same Day, +3, and +7 DVR ratings, online streams, and on-demand plays painted an even more impressive picture. Even for shows far less popular than Empire, the growing reality is that the Nielsen overnight ratings don't quite illustrate how many people are watching. In response to this shifting landscape—and at least partially because most of its non-Empire shows are terribly rated—Fox made a big to-do about not trumpeting overnight ratings this fall. This won't keep Fox's numbers separate, as they're still being released by other networks and Nielsen, but it does signal an increasing frustration with out-of-date metrics and data points.

Nielsen knows about this frustration. That's why, as reported by AdWeek this fall, the leading data crunchers are planning to roll out a more all-encompassing ratings report known as the Total Audience Measurement. Featuring everything from DVR, on-demand, and web streams, the TAM could, in theory, change how the industry, advertisers, and viewers understand what, how, and when people are watching. It also might reveal that some shows aren't as successful on the web, or that long-term DVR figures don't matter as much as we thought. There's just so much data and so many ways to watch that we'll probably never have a clear picture of what's going on. And maybe that's the way it should be!


#PeakTV reaches a fever pitch, but not everyone makes it out alive

You guys, there are so many damn shows. FX head honcho John Landgraf kicked off this probably unfortunate hashtag movement of #PeakTV at the TCA Press Tour and the latest data suggests that in 2015 alone, there were 409 scripted TV shows on the air or online (I tried to collect as many of them as possible right here). Hashtags aside, the amount of TV that we experienced this calendar year was simply unprecedented—until next year. When you start doing the math to see that rando cable channels like Pivot or web portals such as Cracked are putting out original scripted series, that number makes sense but is still overwhelming. 

What this means for the future, I don't know. Landgraf keeps trumpeting this idea because he believes that the system is unsustainable. He's probably right. The business models just don't seem workable long-term. Take Yahoo Screen for example. That web portal had the support of one of the larger (if aimless) tech companies in the world and managed to produce three solid-to-great seasons of single-camera comedy with CommunityOther Space, and Sin City Saints. It ran advertisements on these programs. But in one year, the company somehow lost a staggering $42 million on production and promotion costs. Forty-two million dollars. Turns out, you can't just decide to make TV shows without much of a plan, even if Netflix kind of did that a few years ago to roaring success. 


HBO grabs Jon Stewart, Bill Simmons, and Sesame Street, plans world domination

You know who does have a plan? HBO. In the face of Netflix ramping up original programming (and film) production and all this #PeakTV stuff, HBO spent 2015 readjusting its tie and going to work. Set aside all the great programs currently on the air, all the Emmys love, and the cultural cachet and just look at the acquisitions HBO made in 2015. First, it bailed out the floundering Sesame Street for a five-year deal that will allow HBO to air new episodes before they make their way to PBS, Sesame's home on TV for decades. Then, HBO went out and gave a whole bunch of money to Bill Simmons, the ex-ESPN talent and most popular sportswriter in America, to host his own sports show, work his documentary producer magic, and probably do some kind of website thing that every white male under 35 is desperately anticipating. And then, just because it could, HBO signed a deal with Jon Stewart to produce digital content for HBO Go and HBO Now. That's not even fair. 

It's funny, Netflix's Reed Hastings was prophetic after all. He once said that his goal was to become HBO before HBO could become Netflix, and here we are, with every network and channel hustling to move content to the web just as Netflix tries to act more like a TV network. Up is down, down is up, and everyone is meeting online to produce high-quality content. No matter the medium, it's hard to bet against HBO.


As I'm sure you recognized, there were patterns here. Almost all of these stories were about the Internet or streaming video and their impact on the industry. That's going to continue to be the case because we're in the midst of unbelievable change for TV. But boy was 2015 quite the year. 


thekaitling:list:tvcoms-best-of-2015/
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Dec 21, 2015
Non television networks make it really big in the awards shows for the first time, showing how the TV landscape is changing with players like Netflix and Amazon.
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Dec 21, 2015
Don't forget the credible rumors that the new Star Trek tv series will be catering to the "MTV Crowd" by which they somehow mean millennials, it'll be faster paced with a young cast. And somehow get them to fork over $6 a month for this. Because if there's anything young people are known for, it's paying to watch a TV show on the internet based off a 50-year-old sci-fi franchise.
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Dec 22, 2015
MTV crowd. LOL. or worse The CW crowd :) I wouldn't call it rumors. I'm almost certain we will get a JJ Abrams like version of the franchise. Unfortunately the philosophical ideas that Gene Roddenberry put in the show were completely omitted from the films. I get that some fans of the original TV shows weren't happy with that. Personally i liked the JJ Abrams movies (the first one was better than the second). The films were relatively successful at the box office so i think many young people are familiar with that version of the franchise. It's entertainment. If i want philosophy i read a book. I don't think it's going to work though Because $6 to only watch the new Star Trek ? (the rest of the content i'm not really interested in) It must be exceptionally good to get me to do that.
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Dec 21, 2015
Oh wait, you know who pays to watch a 50-year-old sci-fi franchise? It wasn't young people, it was PEOPLE WHO ARE ALREADY FAMILIAR WITH THE FRANCHISE.

Idiot suits at CBS.
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Dec 21, 2015
Maybe they believe, or are are hoping, the film reboot will bring in the newer audiences that do not care about - maybe not even seen - the original series or Next Generation for that matter?
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Dec 22, 2015
That generation isn't exactly known for paying for a single show. They're known for pirating it. They're known for "binging" on it when it's easy to get. But they aren't known for devout consumption on a specific level.

Of course they are hoping they can repeat the film's success, despite having their company severed from Paramount so they won't share specific licensing, but they know they can't afford the film series' excesses on a TV budget. And those films are all about excesses.
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Dec 21, 2015
Donald Trump hosts Saturday Night Live, only has one funny sketch (white people doing the Drake dance) yet, despite loads of people threatening to boycott SNL, the episode reaches a ratings high not seen since the Will Ferrel days. Also, the other GOP nominees aren't even trying anymore at the debates, so it seems like Trump will be the official Republican candidate of 2016 since he's LEAGUES crazier than any other Republican EVER. (Well, maybe Warren G. Harding, but no one remembers that guy.)
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Dec 21, 2015
Eh he isn't leagues crazier, they are all the same shade of crazy. He just wears it on his sleeve, whereas the other just try to hide it better.

He is going to be a fun President though. Trump 2016!
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Dec 21, 2015
I'm still pretty excited about Full House coming back.
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Dec 21, 2015

I don't know that HBO's exactly cleaning up because of those three moves but they are great moves. Simmons seems much more fitted for the prestige journalism atmosphere of HBO and Sesame Street has long talked of moving to pay tv.

Grabbing Stewart is a great move but it's only for digital at this point so I don't know that it's going to have that much of an impact.


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Dec 21, 2015
Comedy Central's late night offerings really have taken quite a tumble. I'm sure there's plenty of people who enjoy Noah and Wilmore but at some point you have to admit they don't compare to the A list level that Stewart and Colbert had Comedy Central at. Devastating year for Comedy Central.


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Dec 20, 2015
CBS All Access exists because of Big Brother fans who want to watch the streams. Every other country with Big Brother provides those streams for free. Star Trek is only being used to keep BB fans from cancelling after the end of the season.

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Dec 20, 2015
Oh, and I have to mention David Letterman's leaving,

As far as television news goes, this is a pretty big deal.
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Dec 20, 2015
I enjoyed this article more than i thought i would


Mentioning Full House and Gilmore girls in one sentence is sacrilege
The former is utter crap and the later is one of the best TV series of all time.

Thanks for the spreadsheet, dude. This will definitely come in handy.
I have a similar list in the form of a database (call me old fashioned) with descriptions and what not...

Quite a year indeed. 353 mass shootings. It's a bit much. Mass shootings 2015
It's the time of the year to make lists. I hate real life sometimes So back to my favorite form of escapism: Television!

Happy holidays everybody!


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Dec 20, 2015
Just remember the constitutional rights of the 360~ish shooters are far more important than the rights of their 1774 victims.
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Dec 21, 2015
But we aren't just talking about the constitutional rights of those 353, but of 35 percent of the country which owns guns, and the lives of all those people which are saved because they had guns to defend themselves with. Of course, there should be gun reforms and better regulation, but the nation will never accept a complete ban on guns.
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Dec 21, 2015
Those shooters have formed very small militias, you see, so the founding fathers were right... from a certain point of view.
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Dec 21, 2015
I think they fall down on the "well regulated" part
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Dec 20, 2015
latter. why do i always see typos after i click on submit (sigh)
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Dec 20, 2015
ISIS in San Bernardino is big news.
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