Tuesday, December 17, 2019

GMTA, "The Expanse" Edition


On last night's Free Talk Live, there's a brief discussion of The Expanse, a series that originated on cable TV's Syfy but that, as of its just-debuted fourth season, is produced by Amazon and delivered via Amazon Prime Video streaming.

The question one host (IIRC, Ian) had of another (IIRC, Captain Kick-Ass) was this (paraphrased):

Is the move from television to streaming changing the content of shows, particularly the tendency to insert mini-cliffhangers right before commercial breaks in the former medium?

I was thinking about the same thing the other night while watching an episode of The Expanse from the show's second season.

There's a bad situation. A main character may be about to die. The rest of the main cast has a possible solution. Will it work? Obvious pause. Scene change. Solution being implemented.

Of course, my brain clicked -- "that was a commercial break point."

And then my brain clicked again. "In shows written for streaming, there's still a need for cliffhangers to keep the viewer's attention, but the writers no longer have to peg the timing of those cliffhangers to commercial breaks per a known, uniform schedule."

Of course, there might be trade-offs. Captain Kick-Ass (IIRC) asserts that if (for example) the fourth season of The Expanse ever runs on "real" TV, commercial breaks will seem abrupt since the show is no longer written to the cliffhanger/break beat.

But I can already think of two situations in which we've already seen this phenomenon:

1) Older shows on newer cable TV channels. These newer cable networks run more commercials, over more breaks, than the old networks and bigger cable channels. Part of the way they make up for lost time is by running the credits and the "up next" stuff at the same time, and the credits at what looks like quintuple speed or something. But as to the spacing of the breaks, they're definitely abrupt. In fact, sometimes they take place in mid-sentence.

2) Streaming shows and movies on services that run ads in-line (as opposed to before the show begins).  There are a number of such services, but the one I usually have reason to watch something "free with ads" on is Vudu. Those services don't have to worry about fitting the show or movie into X minutes, but they also have uniform "ad every X minutes" formats that don't match previous TV ad schedules or obvious break points in movies.

In the latter case, at least with Vudu, there's a kludge to make the commercial breaks less annoying: After the commercial break, the show or movie re-starts at a point a few seconds before the ad break began. That way the abruptness doesn't cause you to lose your train of thought quite so much.

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