“LES AMOURS de la reine Élisabeth” (The Loves of Queen Elizabeth), starring Sarah Bernhardt, had 4 acts. So do many dramas—however on this case the narrative arc was partly dictated by pedestrian considerations. When the movie opened in New York’s Lyceum theatre in 1912 it got here in 4 reels. Projector operators wanted intervals to modify from one to the following. Up to now century expertise and enterprise fashions have helped form the message in shifting photos—nowhere extra so than in tv. On-line streaming isn’t any totally different.
As TV conquered Western houses within the 1950s reveals got here in two predominant durations: half-an-hour and an hour. In America this gave producers 20-odd or 40-odd minutes to play with after setting apart time for adverts; of the 173 episodes of “Seinfeld”, a sitcom that ran from 1989 to 1998, all however the two-episode finale had been 22 or 23 minutes lengthy. Business breaks, for his or her half, formed episode cadence: you possibly can anticipate a mini-cliffhanger forward of 1. Like HBO and different pay-TV channels, most streaming providers earn cash from subscriptions, not adverts, so creators take pleasure in extra creative licence to find out episode size and construction, says Jonathan Dunn of McKinsey, a consultancy. “Tiger King”, Netflix’s newest hit true-crime sequence, about exotic-cat breeding, is available in chunks lasting anyplace between 40 minutes and 48 minutes.
The medium additionally determines the construction and variety of reveals’ seasons. Because the variety of American business TV stations elevated from fewer than 600 in 1965 to 1,600 in 2000, they wanted extra reveals to fill schedules. Since new ones are dangerous bets, broadcasters most popular to stay to current programmes. Episode counts went up, boosted by syndication contracts, which usually stipulated that after a present had aired for a sure variety of episodes, often 88 (or 4 seasons), the rights to air it may very well be bought to 3rd events.
Streaming providers like Netflix take the other tack to syndication, luring viewers with recent content material that can not be discovered elsewhere (see article). Most of the 10m individuals who signed up for Disney’s new streaming platform by its first day final November in all probability did so to look at “The Mandalorian”, a Star Wars spin-off. Within the first 9 months of 2019 seven of Netflix’s ten most-watched authentic reveals had been of their debut season. Until a present is a mega-hit like HBO’s “Sport of Thrones”, explains Leigh Brecheen, an leisure lawyer in Hollywood, it now makes extra monetary sense to supply one thing new slightly than renew one thing outdated.
The upshot of the shift away from syndication and in direction of streaming has been a decline within the common variety of episodes per season. Primarily based on figures for 34,000 TV reveals worldwide that debuted between 1955 and 2018, compiled by the TVDB, an internet site, this fell from over 20 to underneath 11 (see chart). The variety of seasons per sequence dropped, too, by almost 70%.
Many actors, producers and writers love these abridged runs as a result of they offer them the flexibleness to take different jobs. Creators additionally now not want to fret that their reveals will at some point be aired sporadically by means of syndication, so are free to let plots unspool over a number of episodes. Sitcom episodes stay principally self-contained however serialised drama is “uniquely suited” for streaming, says Sandra Stern of Lionsgate, a manufacturing firm. The web has additionally enabled “binge-watching”, which Netflix pioneered with the discharge of the complete first season of “Home of Playing cards”, a political thriller, on February 1st 2013. Binge-friendly platforms enable viewers to skip the opening and closing credit—and encourage creators to start out with an even bigger bang and finish hanging on a steeper cliff. ■
This text appeared within the Enterprise part of the print version underneath the headline “Medium and message”