What Killed 'Quarterlife'? Cramming

Last Updated Mar 6, 2008 8:53 AM EST

Quarterlife was a made-for-MySpace show chronicling the lives of its young digital-age protagonists. It did OK on MySpace. Then the "good" news hit: NBC picked up the show last November, the first time in the US that a made-for-Internet program jumped to a TV network.

It aired -- once. It bombed. It was pushed off to the Bravo network.

What went wrong? Was it truly a clash between old media and new, as many critics have written? That could be part of it, a case of the show's creators, Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick (they were behind TV hits My So-Called Life and Thirtysomething) just not getting the Internet.

But innovation expert Scott D. Anthony has seen this all before, and it has little to do with generational differences. He calls it cramming, what happens when established, successful companies try to adapt what they did well in the past into new forms.

Stuffing The Turkey
Quarterlife got crammed twice, first as a TV program jammed into a MySpaceTV form, and then re-crammed back into a traditional broadcast model.

By trying to stuff the old into the new, square peg into round hole, you fail to take advantage of the new's uniqueness. In the early days of television itself, the first programs were merely radio shows filmed by cameras. Neither unique nor compelling.

So who will create a new model of video entertainment delivered profitably over the Web? Anthony argues it will be innovators from outside the industry who side step preconceived notions about duplicating what worked in the past.

Companies that break free will marry new content models that are attuned to the unique nature of the medium with a new business model that supports the content. Those that try to force-fit old models onto new mediums will struggle.
Read Anthony's Harvard Online autopsy report on Quarterlife and then tell us the necessary key ingredients to build a winning commercial and artistic formula for Web-based entertainment.
  • Sean Silverthorne

    Sean Silverthorne is the editor of HBS Working Knowledge, which provides a first look at the research and ideas of Harvard Business School faculty. Working Knowledge, which won a Webby award in 2007, currently records 4 million unique visitors a year. He has been with HBS since 2001.

    Silverthorne has 28 years experience in print and online journalism. Before arriving at HBS, he was a senior editor at CNET and executive editor of ZDNET News. While at At Ziff-Davis, Silverthorne also worked on the daily technology TV show The Site, and was a senior editor at PC Week Inside, which chronicled the business of the technology industry. He has held several reporting and editing roles on a variety of newspapers, and was Investor Business Daily's first journalist based in Silicon Valley.