Double Oscar-winner actor Kevin Spacey has warned television show executives they must embrace internet services such as Netflix and YouTube to reach the new generation of viewers in the age of social media.
Giving the MacTaggart lecture at the Edinburgh International Television Festival, the American actor described television drama as a “lost cause” 15 years ago and said his agent would not have allowed him to consider working on a TV show after winning an Oscar, in 1999.
But he says the TV industry has already “taken over” from the big screen over the last decade and he now predicts the barriers between television and film will break down completely within the next two decades.
“Is 13 hours watched as one cinematic whole really any different than a film? Do we define film by being something two hours or less? Surely it goes deeper than that. The device and length are irrelevant. The labels are useless," he told the audience.
Spacey is the star of new US drama House of Cards that launched exclusively on internet video service Netflix.
He says the TV show's success proves the value of investing in a “sophisticated, multi-layered story with complex characters".
And he says the fact people are now watching an entire season of a TV drama in one day proved they had an “incredible” attention span - contradicting the common misconception that the internet had shortened attention spans.
“History proves that commitment to ideas and keeping faith in the talent has to be preferable to a pilot system that just throws everything at the wall in the hope that something.
“When the story is good enough, people can watch something three times the length of an opera. We can make no assumptions about what viewers want or how they want to experience things. We must observe, adapt and try new things to discover appetites we didn’t know we were there.
“Clearly, the Netflix model - releasing the entire House of Cards season - has proved one thing. The audience wants the control. They want freedom.
“If they want to binge - as they’ve been doing on House of Cards - then we should let them binge. Many people have stopped me in the street to say: ‘Thanks - you sucked three days out of my life.’
“I think we’ve demonstrated that we’ve learned the lesson the music industry didn’t learn. Give people what they want - when they want it - in the form they want it.”
Read Kevin Spacey's full speech here.