Ryan Sidhoo's "Welcome to Fairfax" makes brave new TV series for the cord-cutting generation
Nobody watches TV anymore.
Not quite like the old days. Think about the last time you watched a regularly scheduled broadcast network TV show. You probably had a laptop and cell-phone within reach, and probably used both of them while the TV played. Maybe you like to binge-watch pirated or downloaded HBO’s Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad, or Netflix’s Orange is the New Black.
Music videos? You prefer to watch them on YouTube and Vimeo, not MTV, which now features 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom 2. Or perhaps you’re one of the 21 million viewers who needed a makeup tutorial so you, too, can look like Disney's Elsa from Frozen. All are available on an ever-proliferating series of platforms and channels—web, mobile, TV, all presented care of service providers that bundle cable, satellite TV and internet service.
Welcome to the cord-cutting revolution.
TV, web, radio, print media, games—none of these definitions matter. They’re all just content vehicles. The media companies that will survive and thrive are chasing a new Holy Grail: Content.
Most prized of all the are the youthful creators who capture the spirit of our times and throw it simultaneously onto a host of platforms for instant access by an audience that doesn’t distinguish between Instagram, YouTube, tumblr, HBO, Netflix or NBC. "Cord-cutting", as known in the industry, means to access entertainment content outside traditional pay TV subscriptions. This trend is expected to snowball in coming years, especially with the young. One study shows 49 per cent of 25-34 year olds plan on cutting the cord soon.
Among the emerging tribe of media creatives who dominate this new paradigm is Vancouver’s 25 year-old-producer Ryan Sidhoo, who unveils a new docu-series this month.
Premiering October 17,Welcome to Fairfax showcases emerging artists and creators in LA. Presented by the new kid on the network block, “startup” Pivot TV, the first episode is available on YouTube for 30 days, then on iTunes and Amazon after the premiere date.
A graduate of Lord Byng, Sidhoo now resides in Los Angeles, via a rising career at NBC’s Oxygen Network in New York. But he threw the gig over when his brother (hip-hop artist Jay Worthy) introduced him to a two block strip on Fairfax Avenue in LA.
There, Sidhoo instantly found what he calls the most creative hub in America; the epicentre and crossroads of skate, hip-hop, surf and punk rock and an intense DIY culture of ambition and collaboration that’s driving pop culture today.
“Fairfax is the nexus of it,” Sidhoo said. “This is the spot where these trends come from. When I got there and saw it I thought holy sh*t, this is amazing. You could feel it, you could tell.”
Sidhoo saw a golden opportunity to capture talent at the perfect moment—right as it breaks.
“Everyone who we documented is around my age, everyone is hustling and driven by a hunger to make it on their own terms. And when you see pro athletes and Lakers and rappers gravitate towards Fairfax, you just know. This is it.”
Months earlier, from his office in Rockefeller Center, Sidhoo could see the passing of the age of TV and the rise of content as audiences enjoy much more agency and choice. “We don’t want to sit around and wait until a show comes on at 7 o’clock,” he says, “We want to log on and watch it now.”
For some major networks, this can be a huge disadvantage. Sheer size limits their risk tolerance, forcing them to defensively focus on ad revenue to protect share price.
From a management perspective, the priority for major networks is not to take the programming risks most exciting to that most prized and powerful audience in the world—North American millennial. But operations like (made-in-Canada’s) VICE can, and they can run content concurrently on their own sites, on YouTube, HBO, iTunes and Amazon, supplying programming on demand across multiple platforms.
Still, things aren’t as simple as just posting content. For Sidhoo, his time in New York disciplined and prepared him for success at DIY and he’s watched the shifting media landscape closely.
“What I learned from the traditional system is how TV is made. How to shoot a sales tape and incorporate the things I’d learned from the networks.” At the same time, he says, “I’m not someone who’s 50 years old and trying to figure this out. I’m part of the change.”
And being part of the DIY movement allows for side amusements like his OffsideOverseas Instagram video project, which chronicles the adventures of Vancouver’s Ilan Cumberbirch, who’s playing in a European pro hockey league.
With Instagram, there’s no wait for Nielson ratings, and producers can see instantly what their target audience likes, then tailor content for them. Or not. Offside Overseas allows Sidhoo to build an online presence with just a smartphone and an engaging subject.
Access to Instagram, Vine and tumblr, as well as inexpensive HD cameras and equipment, has opened up opportunities to a whole new generation. Sidhoo wants to inspire other young people.
“I’m sure there’s a kid in some small town somewhere who’s never heard of Fairfax. And they might love photography or sewing their own clothes and all the other kids make fun of them. That loner who’s doodling in their notebook, but they can watch this show and say “these are my kind of people.”
Cord-cutting may yet be a few years away from market dominance. The twenty-somethings speaking to each other via a dizzying array of media platforms are taking us there already.