In the days of broadcast only TV networks, there were 5 key players in the marketplace. Collectively, the produced around 60-80 original scripted TV shows. Today, with the proliferation of cable and online networks, prepare for a selection of around 300-400 TV shows.
Broadcast TV was traditional, safe and reassuring of mainstream values. Cable TV is thrilling, compelling, exciting, challenging and sometimes shocking.
The good news is that a quality TV show has a better chance than ever of being produced since the limitations of fixed time slots have been lifted. The bad news is that producers can spend infinite amounts of time trying to figure out a rapidly evolving industry with too many moving parts and niche audiences. However, such audiences support diversity and attract specialized advertisers and subscribers leading to viable business models.
During the days of broadcast-only networks, TV shows usually had a 26 episode run per season, were divided into 30 or 60 minutes episodes depending on genre (comedy and drama, respectively) and each season launched in September. The summer months (June-August) were reserved for reruns and canceled shows. Today, TV shows can have anywhere from 7-26 episode seasons and seasons can premiere throughout the year.
Cable is divided into basic and premium tiered. Premium cable indicates an element of exclusivity and specificity that some viewers chose to watch over and above their basic cable channels.
The divisions of each TV platform landscape are blurring in more ways than you can imagine. Aside from content, other considerations relate to the system of delivery.
Is the viewing is time shifted or live? Are episodes are delivered individually, in groups or as an entire season like a novel?
Is there a limited window to view episodes or are they online in perpetuity? Is the viewing interrupted by commercials or sponsor announcements? If so, can the viewer skip through all or part of them?
The quality bar has been raised dramatically for the TV industry. TV is getting edgier and more unique. Each network must now define its core audience, its brand, and its online identity. The primary colors of TV have been injected with new shades.
TV shows often have an online community and engage viewers with a SECOND SCREEN. This includes audience interaction before, during and after the episode.
Second screen material before the main show includes previous episodes, recaps, interviews with cast and crew, games, background and contests. Material during the show is often live tweeting a running commentary by the show’s stars. After the show material includes recaps, explanations, audience reactions and more interviews and live chats.
VOD platforms are still in their relative infancy. They are said to be absorbing the audiences canceling their cable TV subscriptions. Cord cutters they all them. Traitors. Infidels.
Broadcasters, cablers and VOD platforms are all still evolving. Broadcasters may not exist in a decade or be so radically different to what they are today. They may simply screen only tentpole TV shows. They may share or compete for this programming with the cablers, or merge.
VOD platforms like Amazon, Netflix, Xbox and Hulu are in a rapid growth phase as they carve up the audience pie into thinner and more slices.
Given that smaller indie feature films are getting harder to finance, now is a great time to be a TV writer.