On-demand media switching back to TV-era standards

In the times prior to the widespread popularity of digital video, TV content dominated the media landscape. Starting with the ‘80s all the way through 2010s, the feelings of daunting anticipation and sincere excitement for each new episode of a favorite show, typically coming out once a week, were typical. 

Once the day would come and the program would finally be due, it would most naturally be interrupted with advertising breaks. According to Gaebler, the typical ratio of commercial blocks to content duration was 8-to-22, or 27% ads to 73% content.

Many things have changed once on-demand media sources, such as streaming services like Netflix, or platforms like YouTube became prosperous. According to YouTube data and Social App Report, the platform’s annual usership rose from 500 million in 2010 to 2.5 billion in 2021. Over the same period, the count of paid Netflix subscriptions increased from 21.5 million to nearly 220 million, reports Statista. When it comes to cable networks, CBS, the most watched public TV network in the U.S., lost over 23% of prime-time viewership in just five years, from 9.3 million in 2014 to 7.1 million viewers in 2019, according to data published by Variety Media. 

The major switch which happened last decade was motivated by a higher satisfaction received from streaming content. The most common reasons for switching from TV to streaming are the affordability, convenience, and variety of options available. For a little, if any, fee, streaming services have granted viewers access to an expansive library of content in every imaginable area of interest, with minimal interruptions and full control over viewing progress. At least they used to, until recently… 

Netflix is considering adapting some of its titles to the one-episode-a-week release format, reports Collider with reference to information from Puck. This standard, as mentioned earlier, has been most common for television networks. The ability to watch the entire season (or at least a big part of it) at once, something known as “binging”, has been one of the few things media audiences enjoyed the most about most streaming platforms. However, although dramatic, such change may bring more positives than it initially appears to. First, one-episode-a-week schedule would bring back the feelings of anticipation, and therefore – a higher degree of pleasure from the new episode of a show one was looking forward to watching for an entire week. It also would provide sufficient time for the general audience to catch up on missed episodes, as no one can go past the latest episode, and thus help spark interesting conversations without the fear of spoilers; The discussions about any show would become more reflective and creative, as the fans would naturally tend to speculate on the next turn they predict a story to take. Lastly, a lower chance of “binging” a large amount of content would decrease screen time, and hence decrease the negative effects of blue light exposure. 

Another digital media giant, YouTube, recently was reported to be testing an increased amount of ads before the playback. Several of the service’s users reported through Reddit and Twitter that up to 10 consecutive unskippable 6-second ads had been shown prior to the video. Following a major critical perception by Internet users, the company’s spokesperson informed 9to5Google that the change was an experiment that was concluded. Unlike Netflix’s case, there are not as many positives that can be argued for such a decision. If the aforementioned advertising policy was to continue, it might lead to a significant decrease in the user satisfaction and engagement, negatively impacting not only the platform itself, but the independent creators primarily. 

The two cases described, both the release and advertising policies, reflect a certain reversion to TV standards. It is not necessarily a downgrade, but rather a major adjustment that might be inevitable as on-demand media grows. The TV has not initially been intended as a heavily-commercialized industry; at that time it was rather an impressively innovative technology. It took years for it to develop into the most trusted and popular platform for information. The Internet and its digital video services have undergone the same pattern. After a major growth in the 2010s, it might become more conventional and commercial in the coming decade. For better or worse, the growing industry needs to rely on a consistent supply of profits audience’s involvement in order to sustain itself. Media channels evolve and improve, and that change might simply be something everyone would have to accept as a new standard. Until a brand new format appears – something more advanced than the current platforms are. Although “the great next step” is not easy to imagine right now, it can be noted that television in the ‘80s also seemed as if it never would have been overthrown. 

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Vlad Vasylyk

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