The Market for Serialized Shows Optimistic Because of Netflix

By: Lizzy Buczak

As consumers, we are constantly bombarded with an abundance of TV programming. Serialized shows continue to compete with the success of procedurals, especially in the syndication process, which is where most of the money is made. J.J Abrams produced shows Lost and Alcatraz; both heavily serialized with a huge focus on mythology. One show did exceptionally well and one tanked, but neither has had an easy time finding a home in syndication.

Serialized shows include characters, story lines and themes that develop over a period of time. They build up towards a gradual climax, usually leaving viewers with a suspenseful finale.  Procedural shows introduce a new and specific circumstance that the characters must solve by the end of the episode. They can be aired and viewed out of order and they are specifically good for leisurely and mindless watching. Procedurals are often big competition for serialized shows, which must be viewed in sequential order to prevent the viewers from getting confused and losing pace with the plot and character development.

The ratings say it all. Although Lost was a heavily serialized show, requiring the viewer to commit on a week-to-week basis, viewers proved they enjoyed the more complicated form of storytelling. The series premiere of Lost drew in about 18.6 million viewers in 2004. On its series finale in 2010, it drew in 13.57 viewers.

Drawing in 10 million for its two-hour premiere, Alcatraz was unable to match the value of Lost’s success and lasted only one season. For the season finale of Alcatraz only 4.7 million viewers tuned in. The two-hour finale also fell 6% from its previous week, which made the show end on a complete low. “Viewers will make the investment if the show is top quality; if not, they won’t and the show will be more likely to get cancelled early on,” said Phillip Swan, president and CEO of TV Predictions, Inc.

Procedurals do great in syndication on both prime time and cable networks because they have proven to be more likely to get viewers to tune in, regardless if they’ve skipped an episode or two.  Networks avoid serialized shows because they generally do poorly in syndication, especially when played out of order. Grey’s Anatomy, which is a mildly serialized show, pulled in 1.2 million per episode in syndication on the cable channel Lifetime. Shows like Lost and Heroes, which were heavily serialized only pulled in about $500,000 per episode. Procedural shows like CSI make as much as 2.5 million an episode in syndication. Netflix and other digital platforms bring new hope for studios and serialized shows giving them a new medium for syndication.

Netflix has no restrictions to program viewing, which is great for people who like to binge watch a series.  “ If the show is not discovered instantly it can be discovered a year later. People can watch one right after the other to catch up on a series,” said Shauna Phelan, director of the television department at Varsity Pictures. Watching the show at ones leisure makes viewers more likely to tune into the next season when it airs on TV and creates buzz around the show, giving it a longer shelf life. Swann agreed, “More people will give shows a spin after they originally aired on their networks which will help ramp up ratings for future seasons.”

Netflix, YouTube and Amazon Prime started a new independent model that could become potentially hurtful to networks, yet really beneficial for serialized shows. “Netflix is creating original shows at the same quality and content as networks like ABC, but there is no network attached to it. They are bypassing the TV space and going straight to consumers, which s really an important shift,” said Phelan. Netflix has created the demand that you have the whole show on the spot. “This is what I want to watch when I want to watch it. That’s the mindset Netflix is setting for consumer,” said Phelan. There is no guarantee that people will keep coming back week to week, but if its out there all at once, their more inclined to watch.

Netflix has a strategic advantage for content licensing of serials. While other television network competitors are competing for the same sitcoms and procedural shows, Netflix has struck up deals with hard to syndicate serialized shows. According to Swann, “Netflix and Amazon and other new creators of original shows will become players in syndicating shows but I expect they hold to their exclusivity a bit longer than networks tend to do.” Networks like The CW, who might not otherwise get multi-million dollar syndication deals, can put their shows on Netflix, different networks and box the seasons as DVD’s, creating the ultimate money making package.


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