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I’ll admit it, I always use the Emmy’s as a way of validating my TV-watching habits. And while they’ll never give me an excuse to watch the Real Housewives of <insert city>, at least this year my taste for The Handmaid’s Talewas not only confirmed by TV’s highest honors, it made Emmy history by making Hulu the first digital platform to bring home a top series award.
This is no easy feat in this golden age of TV, where Game of Thrones producers spend an average of $10 Million dollars per episode. Today’s viewers expect dragons to look real, they expect authentic drama, nonstop action and big-time celebrities. When viewing is more on-demand than ever, and supply is the highest its been in TV history, viewer sophistication and expectations have clearly never been higher.
If I’d written this in 2014, I might have told the three big networks (ABC, CBS, NBC) to watch out for Starz and HBO in 2016. But in looking out for 2018, it’s Netflix and Amazon who need to step up their game, because digital programming will not stop with Hulu. #SocialisComing.
We’ve already seen YouTube, Facebook and Twitter not only rejigger their platforms to make video more prominent, they’ve also dipped their toes into original programming. From Facebook’s Strangers to Twitter’s upcoming launch of AM to DM, its live morning show with Buzzfeed News, social is ready to rock the on-demand video viewing world.
Facebook in particular is poised to revolutionize original programming and on-demand viewing with episodes in the 15-minute range (right in line with user preferences on mobile devices); a brand new Watch tab on its mobile experience; and ways to share, co-watch and comment on programming that are simply unavailable with traditional TV networks. Twitter and YouTube’s options aren’t too shabby either. They’re both focusing not just on great original programming, but on original programming that’s endemic to their platforms. Where do you go for real-time updates? Twitter. Where do you go for the funniest clips? YouTube. These are smart strategies that have the potential to leave other digital platforms in the dust.
Even more promising for social programming are the lower barriers to entry for creators themselves. Facebook’s Watch inquiry page suggests it will consider a wide range of content creators from individuals (read: influencers), to pubishers, to sports bloggers, artists and beyond. And they stand to make money off of each new show they add, with ad breaks and branded content.
Obviously influencers having their own shows is nothing new for the likes of YouTube, but this opens up the floodgates for Facebook to create its own niche that perfectly balances the expectation of highly-produced TV shows with the immediacy of raw and unfiltered influencer videos. Something that won’t take long to take off.
With more ways to resonate with audiences in formats that are untouchable for linear TV, social original programming will be the star of 2018. Stay tuned.
Unless you’re living under a rock, you’re most likely aware that Hulu’s newest program—The Handmaid’s Tale—is blowing up. Not just because of its intense relevance in today’s world or because of how brilliantly the producers adapted Margaret Atwood’s original novel, but because Hulu single handedly (even if by accident) revolutionized the way on-demand services drop their new shows, playing right in to the science of how and why we watch.
Instead of publishing the entire show at once (as is the current on-demand viewing services model) Hulu opted to drop just 3 episodes last week, with the promise of a new episode each week thereafter. The producers feared that if audiences attempted to binge on this show they might suffer from the deep dark depression inherent in the show’s message. If you’ve watched it, you’ll understand. But they knew that to create an avid and interested fan base, they needed more than just the pilot.
They played right into the principles of supply and demand. If you have too much supply, your demand drops. How many of you have decided to wait on a new series just because it seems like a mountain to overcome? Or because you’re just not in a binge-watching headspace? I know I have.
And on the opposite side of the spectrum, how many of you have watched one episode of a show only to discover your partner’s asleep beside you, and then you just don’t have the energy or drive to re-watch it again before moving on? Or, maybe more likely, in the midst of the thousands of different shows and movies that exist, you forget about that one episode you watched that one rainy day and about the series entirely.
But three episodes IS completely manageable. It’s not enough for a binge, but it’s just enough for me to get into it and to NEED to see the next episode. Hulu somehow discovered that optimal supply to drive incremental demand. And the proof is in its rave reviews and social chatter. In fact—it’s still holding strong a week after the premiere, with words like “timely,” “distressingly,” “warning,” and “terrifying” taking top spots in conversation, according to 30db.com.
So why does this change the game?
1. It prevents social chatter from spoiling it for those behind. Now, when people decide to binge watch the entire season, they won’t ruin it for the rest of us. Because they can’t binge end-to-end until much later. And, parsing out episodes over time keeps people speculating in between releases, increasing the longevity of the show in the social conversation (and likely the amount of total conversation).
2. It changes viewing habits, again. As advertisers, we’ve all struggled with the on-demand nature of video today. How can we make our mark when we have no idea how regularly our advertising is viewed? And how do we prevent over-messaging when users binge watch? With this new three-drop model, media planners will need to rethink the way they buy and flight media.
3. It could signal the beginning of a new wave of on-demand advertising. We know there’s an audience for all of these hit on-demand shows, and we know they receive a hell of a lot of attention, but what the advertising world is lost on is how to take advantage of this. Without commercial breaks or the weekly habitual viewing that ensures frequency, it’s a hard opportunity to pitch. But, The Handmaid’s Tale could set a groundbreaking precedent for all of our on-demand video services that would eventually enable more guaranteed & regular viewing and thus more solid opportunities for advertisers across the board. The three-drop system could ensure both the content consumption publishers need and the habits & frequency advertisers require to make an impact.
It’s too soon to tell how advertisers will run with this, or even if other on-demand services like Netflix and Amazon will adopt this new style. But it’s clear that the choreography of a show launch has major implications for both audiences and advertisers. One that I’m actually getting behind.
Photo credit: Hulu