Binge writing for streaming

Continuing our media don't deserve our mediums


Despite the mediums having transformed completely over the past decades, most media is still released in a very traditional way. Some part of that might be explained by that there's still a bunch of traditional publishing houses behind it all, but they're not the only ones creating new content. When I think of tech companies like Netflix spending shy of $20 billion a year on producing its own material I see no reason why they should limit themselves to old paradigms.

Streaming & narrative arcs

Stories are often written using narrative arcs: a protagonist is introduced, they face some kind of conflict, it builds towards a climax and finally there's resolution. A show will typically have a few arcs of different levels running simultaneously:

  1. A show has overarching arcs that build & resolve spanning multiple seasons
  2. A season has a larger arc that is formed in multiple episodes to keep the viewer engaged to watch the next episode
  3. Most episodes have their own arc to make them enjoyable to watch, standalone

Thanks to streaming we're no longer dependent on watching content at the tv-network's discretion, however. We can watch a show whenever we want, for as long as we want.

Binge writing

The second season of Ted Lasso kicked off with 2 slow episodes, or so a lot of people thought. One of the show's producers later revealed that episode 1-3 were meant to be released together. The screenplay was adapted to what was (initially) the release strategy of the episodes, anticipating for the behavior of binge watching.

It's the first and only example I've encountered, of writers actively changing their screenplay for the medium they were creating for. Only when the strategy changed, the binge writing became apparent.

It makes me wonder about how writers could creatively toy with a changing medium, and how (or if) it will change the content we consume in the future. We're already seeing episodes of feature-film length in major productions and major differences in runtime of episodes, both would be unthinkable on linear-television.

We can have more unconventional content

Does every episode still need its own story arc when the viewer can (and will) immediately line up the next episode? Is there even merit to the concept of 'episodes' and 'seasons' in a streaming context? Does it reflect the ideal consumption of stories, or is it a relic of linear television that we just haven't managed to shake off?

It makes me imagine a future where stories are continuously developing, perhaps in a more natural 'flow' that doesn't respect these clear cuts. Get in and out whenever you feel there's a natural moment to do so, or whenever your life dictates you to. One time you watch for 20 minutes and 3 hours another.

It would be a challenge for screenwriters to make the shows enticing, but given the medium, one could — of course — iterate on the parts that have a high dropoff rate ;-)