I grew up before the internet. We had old-school TV.
On Thursday nights, my dad would come home from work with a bag of Doritos and a bottle of Coke, and at 7:00pm my family would sit down on the couch and watch whatever the TV line-up was. (The Cosby Show… and others that I don’t remember as clearly right now.)
TV shows in the US and Canada followed a pretty predictable schedule, not just of when they aired but in how long each was. A half hour show might be 25(ish) minutes plus time for commercials; an hour long show might be 50(ish) minutes plus time for commercials.
Of course, Netflix and similar Video On Demand services transformed how people consume video entertainment, allowing us to watch whatever shows we want whenever want without having to sit down altogether at a specific time.
I love it.
Yet, Netflix (and others) didn’t change everything: when I cut my cable a couple of years ago and switched to Netflix and similar services, I found myself watching shows that were still formatted to that length 25(ish) minutes or 50(ish) minutes.
(And, yes, I realize that Netflix buys some of its shows from television networks that once aired them with commercials, so that explains the time on those shows… but not all episodic shows were purchased from television, yet they still seem to be within the 25-30 minute range or 50-60 minute range; even “Netflix Original” shows that were not filmed for commercial-timing requirement of television.)
Coinciding with my transition to Netflix, my viewing habits have changed a lot: I don’t always have the time or patience to sit through an hour-long show (or a 1.5 to 2 hour movie) anymore. I’m busy. I run a few businesses and I have a social life. I look to Netflix as a quick escape for a few minutes in between my other commitments.
And I don’t think I’m alone. Most people’s viewing habits have changed: people are binging shows, for example; which is a relatively new phenomenon.
As people (in general) find themselves busier and busier, with less and less time to enjoy a full half hour or hour-long show, I think we need shorter alternatives.
There’s YouTube, of course, and how many of us with a few minutes here or there haven’t turned to YouTube for some entertainment? Little videos of 5 to 15 minutes in length are the perfect way to waste that sliver of time you have before going on to the next thing or while waiting for your meal to finish cooking.
But there’s a gap. Do you see it?
- Netflix provides professionally produced stories of 30+ minutes.
- YouTube provides a variety of videos in a variety of formats, including less than 30 minute videos; some are professionally produced but many are not.
What we don’t have is a well-produced story that takes only 10-15 minutes to consume. Sure, if I dig around on YouTube I might find something. CinemaSins, ThugNotes, and Last Week Tonight With John Oliver are three of my go-to choices when I have a few minutes. But most YouTube content is made up of shorter shows by amateurs—nothing professional;nothing episodic.
And that, I think, is a HUGE opportunity, and perhaps the next big trend in video consumption: what I call Microshows.
Imagine if Netflix produced a number of shorter shows, each just 10-15 minutes long. Some could be standalone, perhaps tied together in the way that Black Mirror is a series of standalone shows; others could be episodes in an ongoing story.
The challenge producers would have would be to tell a story faster, or break up the “chapters” into smaller parts (as if you were watching an old-school TV show but only from one commercial break to the next in a single sitting so that, over time, they’d finish one storyline).
I don’t think the costs would be that much higher since you’re still telling stories, just spread out into multiple episodes.
And of course it probably won’t do away with the longer-format content but with the way people consume content now (short, fast, mean and lean) I think Microshows are the way we’ll want to consume some of our entertainment in the years to come.
If we’re going to see this happen, it will ultimately come down to whether or not Netflix (or a competitor) sees new-subscriber attraction or existing subscriber stickiness in providing this. And if Netflix doesn’t do it then Microshows could be an angle that an upstart may want to take on to differentiate themselves.