The Simpsons App Will Change the TV Game Forever
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The Fiscal Times
August 1, 2014

Get ready for a whole lot more Simpsons in your life. Starting on August 21st, Fox’s FXX will run a nonstop marathon of every single episode (and the 2 hour 2007 film) that will last through Labor Day. Following that in the fall, Simpsonsworld.com will launch as both a website and an app, enabling full streaming of every episode, along with a multitude of special features.

The website is a fundamental change in the relationship between television content and the networks that could reverberate through the industry.

First, it should be acknowledged that The Simpsons is not just any show. It is a one-of-a-kind juggernaut the likes of which will never be replicated - a pop-cultural phenomenon that is now in its 4th decade of production. The never-changing cast allows it to hold a mirror up to the ever-changing idea of “The American Family” in ways that have made it a global sensation.

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The series has won 28 Emmys for the Fox Network. As a franchise, it has generated a feature film, comic books, multiple video games, toys, t-shirts, posters, and one amusement park ride. Fox has been quoted as saying that the show is “Without doubt the biggest licensing entity that Fox has had, full stop.”

At the end of last year, The Simpsons had generated well over $12 billion in revenue.

Just as it took a band with a large, loyal and tech savvy fan base like Radiohead to release an album straight to the public, it took a series with the size and the clout of The Simpsons to launch a site exclusive to its content.

Consider this: For years, hardcore Simpsons’ fans (of which they are legion) have longed for the day the show was available to stream. Fox could have used this deal to work out a greater share with Netflix. Or they could have used it to give a mighty leg up to an upstart like Amazon Prime, Yahoo or Sony’s new streaming network. The network could have used it to launch their own player to compete directly with Netflix, or bundled it with their other animated successes into a single service (Seth MacFarlane will surely be watching the results of this experiment with baited breath). 

Instead, The Simpsons launched its own product, exclusive to its brand.

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The site/app itself promises to be top of the line. In a press conference last week longtime executive producer Al Jean joked, “I’m not going to overpromise, but I think this website will provide you with affordable health care.”

The app developers are clearly familiar with the way fans already interact with the show and have seemingly created a product designed to fulfill their wildest dreams. Not only will they have access to all of the episodes and the film, but the app also offers “clip-and-share” functionality, so super-nerds used to typing out quotes over IMs can now simply send a clip of “Everything's coming up Millhouse,” “To alcohol! The cause of and solution to all of life’s problems,” or simply “Eat My Shorts.” 

The annotation features that HBOGo perfected with its “Game of Thrones” presentation will be understandably in full effect, with trivia, commentary and biographies available at a click. And interestingly the app features a certain amount of “gameification” with Easter egg content that only unlocks with frequent use.

Beyond putting out a best in class app, Groening and company are also opening the door for the niche streaming service. The assumption, since streaming first began to take hold in Netflix accounts, was that eventually there would be one streaming service to rule them all. But as the products have evolved, many of us subscribe to multiple services, having Netflix, HBOGo, Hulu, AND Amazon Prime Logins. It’s not unthinkable that a sizable number of these same power-users will soon add The Simpsons app.

It’s equally easy to assume that other pop culture giants could follow the same path as The Simpsons. Along with the aforementioned MacFarlane, it is likely that other television auteurs such as Trey Parker and Matt Stone, or Joss Whedon might decide that a South Park or Buffy streaming site is exactly what the world needs. Think of the wonderfully creepy features an X-files or Twin Peaks streaming site might unleash on the world. 

Once upon a time, when there were only three TV stations, The Simpsons were a crucial part in ushering in Fox as the first real challenge to the monoculture. Whether you consider this ironic or appropriate, the “Home screen” of the modern television may not feature one streaming option, it might have 100 and that will be at least in part because of The Simpsons.

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Product Director at The Fiscal Times, Josh Herr also writes about the business of sports, culture, entertainment and music.