Shorter series damage storytelling

Streaming should prioritize quality over quantity

Someone watching Netflix on TV
PHOTO: Mollie Sivaram / Unsplash

By: Kaja Antic, Sports Writer

Streaming services have negatively affected the entertainment industry in multiple ways, and one example is how companies like Netflix and Max continue to shorten TV seasons. This has been an issue since the late 2000s and expanded in the early 2010s, as programs went from an average of 20 episodes per season to a staggering nine-episode average in 2017. The increase in shorter seasons goes hand-in-hand with the rise of streaming services as platforms prioritize the quantity of new TV shows over the quality of longer seasons.

Personally, I am not a fan of shorter series as they give the audience a limited amount of content, and often leave viewers feeling disconnected from the show’s themes and characters. On top of that, they often limit character development, leaving much of the show’s substance unfinished. One argument for shorter series is they make for more effective linear storytelling. This line of thinking comes from shorter seasons not needing to add filler episodes, which are often seen as unnecessary to the overall plot. While some may be relieved at the death of filler episodes, I am personally less than pleased. These episodes often expand on storytelling and character development that is now left on the cutting room floor of shows with limited runs.

In 2019, Netflix spent $12 billion on programming for its international network spanning over 158 million users at the time. With the COVID-19 pandemic creating isolation restrictions, the use of streaming services increased worldwide, and most online video streaming entities reported a minimum 10% increase in registrations in 2020. From 2019–2023, there was an estimated 76.7% increase in video streaming. While Netflix isn’t the only platform paying their workers unfairly, the rise in streaming goes hand-in-hand with profit. Despite services receiving more money, they are more interested in churning out a plethora of series rather than investing in longform, quality television. 

Another issue is that actors and writers are being employed for shorter periods of time, and not being compensated over the long term through residuals, a point of contention during the recently concluded SAG-AFTRA strike. Residuals are essentially payments for media participation after the initial compensation has already been paid to the participants. On traditional cable TV, these residuals largely come through re-runs of episodes. With streaming, there are no guidelines for how the participants are compensated for views on these platforms.

Profits decrease for performers, but not for streaming platforms, given actors’ limited access to work and consumers’ limited access to content from their favourite shows. Some residual cheques from large corporations such as Disney can only yield a few cents, despite the company earning over $82.7 billion USD in 2022 alone. These limited series not only damage the quality of in-depth storytelling for viewers, but also damage those on screen who are not fairly compensated for the work they do.

Many of these streaming services began producing their own shows exclusive to their platforms, which set the scene for programs in the years that followed. Netflix is notorious for creating this trend, and has debuted shows like Emily in Paris and Blockbuster. Sure, they have decent titles, but the amount of poorly made series outpaces the good ones. Streaming appears to be more focused on their growth as a corporation, churning out multiple titles, and less concerned with what’s actually being put out, as long as audiences engage in endless consumption.

Forgoing the issue of binge-watching culture halting the excitement of weekly episodes, these shorter seasons don’t allow for episodes that genuinely flesh out characters and secondary plots. What happened to the art of random late-season musical episodes

There’s no time to fully develop shows in their limited episode span, but there is also an ongoing issue of companies like Netflix cancelling shows after one or two seasons with little explanation. Many of these shows cancelled in recent memory feature marginalized communities, like Netflix cancelling popular shows centred around queer women like First Kill and I Am Not Okay With This, but continuing to represent queer men in shows like Heartstopper and Young Royals.

Since there’s only a limited amount of runtime for these shorter series, there’s not much content to be viewed when series are popular, which leaves even less money for actors. With the threat of cancellation always looming, there’s no guaranteed job security for those performing in the industry. 

There are certain shows on traditional cable TV that continue with longer seasons, such as classic procedurals like Law & Order, though many modern-day programs run for a fraction of the time popular programs did less than a decade ago. I’m not asking you to commit to hundreds of episodes, or even 1,000 episodes in the case of One Piece — just more than ten episodes to sustain a 365-day hiatus would be great.

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