Streaming And The Golden Age Of Episodic Content

So I finally dedicated the time to delve headfirst into HBO’s “Deadwood.” The much-celebrated but short-lived, gritty Western series met what most fans would consider a premature demise. The show received universal critical acclaim during its run and has garnered a nearly cultish following. But the show only ran a total of three seasons from 2004 to 2006 ­­--  a short run by today’s standards. It makes me wonder, was it too good for its time?

The Dark Ages Of Streaming

During “Deadwood”’s run, DVR set boxes were just beginning to show momentum in household penetration. On-demand via cable was the newest thing. There was no HBO Go and Netflix unlimited streaming hadn’t been launched yet, nor had Hulu or Amazon Instant Video. YouTube consisted primarily of user-generated content. Most networks still had very limited content on their own websites. “Deadwood”’s plots were intricate and tightly woven. Missing a few episodes or skipping a season or two would greatly diminish the enjoyment of the show. On-demand was inconsistent. It didn’t always stock the full series, as HBO Go does now.



“Just One More Episode…”

Nowadays, binge watching is the new trend, which has allowed some truly incredible TV to surface in the last few years. Ten years ago, viewers had to dedicate themselves to a schedule in order to catch their favorite episodic dramas. Who has time for that? And by the time a show had reached its zenith in hype, it had typically already been on the air for a few seasons – making catch-up costly in the form of DVD sets. In contrast, Netflix was able to introduce shows like “Breaking Bad” and “Mad Men”to a much larger audience than a network alone would’ve been able to. It’s enabled some truly fantastic content (especially content that may have been viewed as too risky or niche in the past) to thrive by making catch-up easy.

The Golden Age

 Last year, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas made headlines by predicting an “implosion” of the film industry. Spielberg revealed the movie “Lincoln” was very nearly an HBO mini-series due to the challenges he faced getting it into theaters. And his feeling was that episodic TV is the new premier outlet for creative content, not movies. There may be some truth to this idea. For instance, “Breaking Bad” plays out like a 62-episode movie, and Vince Gilligan’s choice to determine a finite endpoint well in advance of the series conclusion solidifies that comparison.  

 If what Spielberg is saying is true, it’s largely due to the freedom of streaming. Shows like “Deadwood” might have thrived with HBO Go. “Arrested Development,” an episodic comedy with a linear plot, barely made it to three seasons on Fox, but has attracted massive viewership and hype thanks to Netflix. The breadth of quality content available to us now, both in streaming and traditional forms, is truly breathtaking.  

What Does This Mean For Advertising? 

The implications for brands are numerous and far-reaching.  For one, there’s an inherent change in behavior to capitalize on. If brands can successfully create compelling original content, viewers are more conditioned to continue watching in an episodic manner. Using tactics like encouraging the use of YouTube playlists can be very effective in increasing time spent with content.  

 Additionally, brands now have an opportunity to better establish long-term relationships with viewers. They can tell their own stories in the form of serialized commercials that follow a show during its entire run, both with traditional TV and with online media. An industry accustomed to yearly planning can now look more often at multi-year strategies.  

One way to extend these relationships is to encourage engagement during/after shows. Call-to-actions to visit deeper digital content and interactions relevant to the viewer can be very powerful. The two-screen experience via mobile and tablet apps can be a very effective means to engage consumers. Emerging platforms like AMC Story Sync, Disney Second Screen, and GetGlue show promise as interactive outlets for advertisers.  

We’re living in an exciting age for TV. Despite an undeserved premature end to some great TV of the past, the future is looking bright for episodic content thanks to emerging technology. Brands should look to evolve their strategies to engage this new captive audience.  

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