Three Seasons Of Any TV Show Is Enough - Just Ask Streaming Users

Three years and an average of eight episodes per season, and it's over? Is that the new normal for today’s modern TV series? Yes, those are the dynamics for what could be described as a successful TV series. Make that a streaming TV series.

Susan Rovner, chairman/entertainment content, NBCUniversal Television and Streaming, said recently at SXSW: "When you look at a lot of the streamers and how they program now, it’s 'three seasons, eight episodes each season and we’re done.' So they’re not building those libraries, and I think that’s a mistake. I think that’s going to catch up."

Maybe. Have you seen the average duration or a show on Netflix over the last decade? Three seasons and eight episodes per season would be a good deal. If Netflix has figured out how to make money, maybe you can too -- or maybe just in your dreams.



I wonder how this will work in the future for all premium content streamers -- Peacock, HBO Max, Disney+, Paramount+, AMC+ -- when it comes to building more long-lasting libraries? When you are looking to grow quickly -- and be profitable -- that will be a tough task in any event.

Lifetime TV series’ seasons and episodes are getting smaller. In the future, forget about your "NCIS" with its 20-year run -- now totaling 450 episodes -- or "Grey’s Anatomy," now at 19 seasons and 400 episodes.

Shorter, quicker TV series seem to be what most consumers want -- to move on to the next must-see thing. Blame the lure of so-called "peak TV" if you must.

John Landgraf, chairman of FX Networks, used to complain regularly that a growing number of premium TV series on broadcast, cable, streaming and other channels would create a massive problem due to the time that would be needed for viewers to consume all these "peak TV" shows .. and then, adding in the costs of marketing those shows.

As it turns out, for peak TV, the “peaks” may be just short climbs up a big TV hill. And bingeing plays a major role in this.

Viewers are now conditioned to move on to other shows -- believing they are already missing a lot of programming on other new streamers and platforms.

Apple TV+'s "Ted Lasso" has read the tea leaves. At the beginning, it was always planned to be a three-season show. It recently started up its final season.

Netflix’s "Grace and Frankie" lasted seven seasons with a total of 78 episodes --- which means a little more than 10 episodes a season. Still, it remain's Netflix’s longest-running original show to date.

And perhaps, looking back some years from now, just a streaming outlier.

5 comments about "Three Seasons Of Any TV Show Is Enough - Just Ask Streaming Users".
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  1. Ben B from Retired, March 17, 2023 at 11:29 p.m.

    I think that 5 or 6 seasons is good for any TV show on streaming in my opinion than just 3 seasons with only 24 EPs a hit has 60+ EPs in my opinion.

  2. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, March 21, 2023 at 9:07 a.m.

    If you examine the history of prime time entertainment programs on the broadcast TV networks as I have in my book,  "TV Now And Then"( Media  Dynamics Inc 2015 ), it is clear that very few hit series remained "hits" rating-wise for more than three or four seasons. Some exceptions were the westerns---"Gunsmoke", "Bonanza" "Wagon Train", etc. and some police detective dramas and sitcoms---but as a rule most hit shows began to burn out their welcome due, mainly, to becoming verly repetitive and predictable. Over the past two decades things have changed and some shows have developed a life of their own, longevity-wise, not so much because they were rating hits as peak ratings soon evaporated after a few seasons---but because they were the basis for a succession of "spinout" series, creating a "family" of dramas all related to eachother by virtue of a common parentage---and producer. "Law And Order" is a classic example of this but there are others. Another factor is the fact that the networks now have lucrative syndication profit sharing deals with the producers which causes the networks to keep the shows in production for as long as possible---as each episode is a cash cow in rerun syndication.

    It may be that the situation described for original streaming content---mainly dramas----reflects the speeding up of the appeal cycle for most of these shows---hence it takes less time for them to be sampled, found worthwhile for a year or two but then dropped in favor of something else that catches the fancy of mostly younger audiences. If so, that's a function of our rapidly evolving communications world where everything is aviailable instantly for those who seek it. Too many "originals" offered by too many services ---at high cost---may not be the way to go. Result: you get more series orders---but you produce many fewer episodes---which is where the profits are.

  3. Carolyn Bisson from Warner Bros., March 21, 2023 at 4:18 p.m.

    What data do you have that says viewers want 3 seasons?  3 seasons has come about due to financial reasons more than viewer desire.  If it is a hit viewers want more episodes and more seasons.

  4. James Randolph from Randolph, March 21, 2023 at 4:24 p.m.

    I'm not sure if that is truly the case, even if you're using data to back it up.  How does this fall in-line with shows like The Walking Dead, Breaking Bad/Better Call Saul, Game of Thrones, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and many other shows.  Shows like Seinfeld that not only maintain the fanbase it obtained years ago, but consistently gains new watchers from it being syndicated on various channels.  I don't think it's about the length of time or number of seasons more than it does the quality and if that remains consistent where with many shows the quality drops hard after a certain point. 

  5. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, March 21, 2023 at 5:56 p.m.

    First of all, there are always going to be exceptions like the ones I cited plus others---such as "The Cosby Show"  or "All In The Family", however "the data" I refer to is the audience surveys. What these tell me is that even when a viewer becomes a "fan" of a particular entertainment series---a sitcom or drama----it is inevitable that after a number of episodes the storylines become repetitive and the regular cast's behavior more predictable. Also program length is a factor. Because their episodes are usually of one- hour duration, over the years one- hour drama hits have become one or two season wonders but then begin to lose their every night following simply because they generate too much involvement---more than many viewers can take from  a single source. Also dramas are heavily reliant on guest stars and their more intense, attention riveting, "stories" try to  fully engage their audiences with every installment. But guest stars ---and the stories revolving aroun them----- of necessity vary in quality.  In contrast, half hour sitcoms give you smaller doses of lighter,  easy to take, non-serious entertainment, and their recurring situations and cast "personalities", coulped with the same sets used over and over are their primary draw. As a result, drama hits tend to burn out their audiences over a few seasons while the typical sitcom hit often stayed in the top ten rating charts for 4-5 seasons.

    As I said, there are always exceptions but that's not what we are talking about. I believe that the points I made apply to varying degrees to all genres of TV fare and I also believe that the results are evident in the TV show ratings---which I have studied intently over the years---- as well as qualitative studies such as are conducted by TVQ, which tracks how well viewers "like" TV shows.

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