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How the audience has changed

Cartoon: Smith Family watching TV in 1965 compared to 2013


When I was in Hollywood last year, I had an interesting conversation with a writer. He recalled that before online viewing, the DVD box set revolution was a major product release that changed the way television scriptwriters would write their shows.

True, gone are the days where I used to wait in anticipation for the weekly instalment of my favourite show. Now, I will patiently wait for an entire season of to finish, and then watch all episodes one after the other in couch potato fashion.

Eighties and nineties Drama’s like Dallas, Dynasty and Melrose Place would always end on a cliff hanger. Just before you find out who the killer was, everyone paused… cue dramatic music… fade to black and “find out next week”. Recent popular shows are written like one long movie. You could take the beginning of most episodes of True Blood, tack it onto the last scene of the previous episode and it would be seamless.

My favourite show is Madmen and I realise I have never actually seen it broadcast on television. I saw clips on YouTube, hired whole seasons from a DVD store or bought them.

Online viewing, more than the VCR revolution, has further affected viewer behaviour patterns, as people choose to watch shows from network websites. Thanks to an increase in upload time on YouTube, I recently saw the entire first episode of Mockingbird Lane (the new reboot of The Munsters).

Specialty cable channels remain strong as viewers select their TV guide to their liking. I can personalise my own viewing habits to suit my lifestyle, unlike my parents long ago, who had to be home at 7pm to catch Bewitched.

Because audiences have changed their viewing behaviour, we have also changed the ways in which we create content and find the right modality for them. The best-marketed TV shows have a strong online and social media platform to ‘enter-re-tain’ viewer participation. The Telegraph reported that viewers of the UK series Downtown Abbey enjoyed tweeting about the show during the program to other keen fans, bringing a strong audience back to catching the show at the same time.  

So whether a new modality detracts or helps traditional viewing, we can say the audience had disbanded as a traditional collective. I wonder when we will be hearing the term “webisode” more frequently?

Mike Nicholas, Creative Manager, Showrunner Productions





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