News Corp.’s Fox (NASDAQ:NWSA) broadcast unit announced that Mike Darnell, the reality-TV head who brought the network’s “American Idol,” will step down next month after 18 years with Fox, according to Bloomberg.
Rumors are circulating as to the exact reason for Darnell’s departure; many believe that it is because of Idol’s drop in ratings (down 23 percent from last year, according to Nielsen). Any speculation that the network dropped him because of the ratings was refuted by the long-term contract they offered Darnell, which he rejected.
So why did Darnell leave? He insists it was a personal decision that opens up a variety of options for him.
“I’ve been in reality since before it was even called that, and it has truly been an amazing ride,” Darnell said. “However, the world has changed drastically over the last few years and now with hundreds of channels and limitless ways to watch television, I’ve decided this was the perfect time to take advantage of the rapidly changing marketplace.”
Television is undoubtedly changing: Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) created its own show, House of Cards; YouTube (NASDAQ:GOOG) plans to start charging viewers to watch certain channels; Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) has entered the streaming business, and is eager to create its own original series to rival House of Cards. But reality television hasn’t been lumped into this rapidly changing enterprise… until now.
With Darnell’s departure from Fox and his own admission that now is the “perfect time to take advantage of the rapidly changing marketplace,” what could he have in mind?
Perhaps Darnell believes that Netflix would be willing to give him creative freedom over a reality TV series, much the same way it gave Beau Willimon and Kevin Spacey the freedom to make a thirteen-episode season of House of Cards (complete with countless asides from the Richard III-esque protagonist) with every episode available on the same date.
Or could Amazon Chief Executive Jeffrey Bezos, who has always been unafraid to spend big lumps of money on new enterprises he believes in, give Darnell a lump of money and say, “Do what you will. Just make sure it revolutionizes the way we think of reality TV.”
Or perhaps another company has a vision for reality television that no one has been able to do until now, and they want Darnell to captain it. The opportunities seem endless for Darnell, and TV outlets everywhere will be waiting to see what he does next.
In the meantime, one thing is clear: Darnell envisions reality TV as the next big enterprise to break from the confines of cable television.