How Online TV Has Changed Storytelling


The way we view TV has changed. As viewers, we’ve evolved from watching a weekly TV at a set time, to watching programs on demand. Apart from when we watch our favorite shows, we are now faced with the choice of whether we have access to one or a few episodes at a time, or whether we can access an entire season at once.

We are entering an age of binge watching a season or seasons over a compressed period of time.

This gives us less down time to think about stories and discuss them around the water cooler. However, this contemplative time away from the screen is when viewers considered things like nuance, subtext and hidden meaning. These elements can be missed or not fully appreciated during speed watching of an entire season. Previously, TV commercial could conceivable give us some time out from the main program.

Weekly TV shows typically contain an A, B and sometimes C story. The main character’s arc is more gradual throughout the series. The A story is usually self-contained, the B story can extend into two or more episodes and the C story is much slower, occupying a few scenes throughout the entire series..

Streaming TV has become more like an epic movie lasting for hours in both budget and story scope. It can sustain D and E plots to cater to the voracious appetite of these stories.

Because the plot points from the preceding episode are relatively fresh in viewers’ minds, writers can make them more intricate and subtle. Having too much time (such as a week) between key plot points means that they must be reinforced or reiterated for the subsequent view. The advent of binge watching means that each plot point may only a single view. However, writers can infuse a story with more complex plot points, and deeper character interactions.

The key difference is the relative speed at which character arcs evolve over a season. Audiences are changing the way they view TV; even weekly TV. Shows such as “Game Of Thrones” sometimes required multiple views per episode to digest all the story material. Viewers can watch an episode at a time on TV, several episodes or the entire season on demand. The latter is a supplementary viewing experience, often designed to fill in the story gaps for viewers.

The most extreme form of speed watching refers to shows which are released entirely on line.

Consider fully on line TV shows such as “House of Cards”. This is a different viewing experience because all episodes in a season are released simultaneously. This format lends itself to faster moving plots. By the end of the first season, Frank Underwood became Vice President and President by the end of the second season. That’s one pretty fast moving presidential campaign.

The TV landscape is certainly changing.

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One Comment Add yours

  1. varakawa says:

    Agree with what you wrote. I tried to figure out the different story lines of a couple of current series. Instead of ABC, I often ended up with ABCDEFGHIJ, and often storylines that would develop later on in the season were already hinted at in an earlier episode.

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