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The New Age of SVOD Services: How Will Television Series Change?

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In the last two or three years, the television industry has undergone enormous change. Thanks to the advent of DVRs, network video on demand services, standalone subscription video on demand (SVOD) services, and - let’s not forget - piracy, viewers now have unprecedented choice and control over their entertainment, from the device they choose to consume content with, right through to the time they choose to watch it.

It’s incredible to think that less than 2 decades ago, recording and timeshifting were almost exclusively for the enthusiasts. In a VCR dominated world without widespread internet adoption across most of the world, in my family’s case, TV advertisements and the newspaper told you when you could watch, and when, and what sized VCR tape we’d need to record something. Forget about widescreen, HD, electronic programming guides – they didn’t yet exist – at least not in little old New Zealand.

It goes without saying that today’s modern way of doing things is vastly better, and that the entertainment creators and providers themselves have also improved significantly. But with the next paradigm shift in the television industry centering around the internet as the chief method of delivery for the next generation of television shows, what does that mean for the viewers, the shows, and the schedule?


With the widespread adoption of DVRs, television networks have invested significantly more in heavily serialized content than procedural content. The last remaining procedural dramas on network television are ageing – some with more than a decade’s worth of seasons under their belt. Think Criminal Minds, NCIS, Law and Order SVU, Bones, Castle, CSI Las Vegas and more. Within 5 years, I’d be surprised if one of those I’ve just mentioned are still on air.

So why the change? To put it simply, serialized series get more people talking, tell better, longer, deeper stories, and are much more binge watchable. The critics like them too, with serial dramas dominating the Golden Globe and Emmy awards in recent years.

The SVOD services, led by Netflix with its original series House of Cards, are latching onto the serial drama as well. Serial dramas keep viewers immersed, with the unique ability to watch as many or as few episodes as they please, whether it be all at once, or one or two at a time, not to mention the ability to rewind, fast forward, or watch again as they please. Not everyone likes serial series though – just like traditional networks, SVOD services have to cater for the same diverse audience, whose tastes vary significantly. Amazon recently launched police procedural Bosch to generally positive acclaim. Both Netflix and Amazon have dabbled in animated and children's series too.

Comedies won’t undergo changes anywhere near the size of their drama counterparts. A serialized comedy effectively becomes a comedy drama, but the comedy format traditional networks use ports smoothly across to SVOD services. Yahoo wouldn't have picked up canceled NBC comedy Community for a sixth season if they didn't think the same thing.

In general, expect to see even more serialized drama than what’s on television currently, but no significant change on the comedy front.

Big Data

Television viewers are as obsessed with knowing whether their favorite shows will be returning for another season as they are with the shows themselves. Fortunately, big data gives them some degree of comfort, or confirms the inevitable. In many countries, viewership data is released daily, and fans can crunch the numbers to their hearts content. There’s a plethora of websites dedicated to exactly this subject.

However, SVOD services are different. They love keeping the big data on their subscribers’ habits close to their chest. There’s no true way of knowing whether your obsession with an SVOD show is shared among your fellow subscribers. At best, some internet service providers can provide educated guesses through traffic analysis, but with SVOD services reaching across dozens of countries, no single analytics provider can measure them all.

Some of you will be yelling at your screen saying current measurement systems are no better – and that is most likely true. The fundamental difference in this case is that the “old school” people meter systems are widely accepted as being correct by the companies that rely on that data. Another important factor is that with many years of historical measurement data available, viewers can guess with very good accuracy what the networks are thinking. With no historic data available for SVOD services, they themselves are the sole adjudicators, with all others being virtually clueless.

It’s worth remembering that the data SVOD services have will be perfectly accurate, and will give them massively more insight into the habits of their subscribers, but since divulging their numbers publicly would not be in their best interest competitively, fans will likely never know a series has ended until that news gets released.


Ah, schedules. The most frustrating part of the traditional broadcast system.

Timeslots are everything. They’re what traditional networks use to do battle, with their series being their primary weapons. It’s all about garnering the biggest share of the target demographic. Success = money, failure = a timeslot change, which is often followed soon after by cancellation.

SVOD to the rescue, with zero schedules to conform to, not only for the SVOD services, but for viewers as well. This is probably the biggest attraction for both parties. SVOD services can release content any time they please, whether it be during a busy time in the traditional television season to disrupt traditional viewing habits, or during quiet times during the year when there isn’t much else on.

It isn't quite as simple as this from the SVOD service’s point of view. Remember they have users in dozens of other countries. Dates for release will have more significance than viewers realize. One notable example was Netflix releasing its second season of House of Cards on Valentine’s Day last year. Why go out to a romantic dinner when you can watch a ruthless politician and his wife do business instead?

Valentine’s Day in 2014 also happened to be a Friday, as did February 1, in 2013 when season 1 was released. Following the Friday trend, House of Cards’ third season went live on Friday, February 27. So while Valentine’s Day may have been a lucky break, giving viewers the weekend to watch most, if not all of a season, was what Netflix was gunning for. Friday could become the most important day for SVOD services. Countering that was fellow Netflix original series Orange is the New Black, which launched its first season on a Thursday, but the following 2 seasons, including the upcoming third season, are down for Friday launches. Amazon’s Bosch launched on a Friday too, and most of its other original series have launched on Fridays, with the remainder going live on a Thursday.

For the viewers, chances are the dates don’t matter as much, because they can watch a SVOD series wherever and whenever they please. They are in complete control, as the current trend among SVODs is to dump all episodes of a season online at once. It is generous of the SVOD services to give them a weekend to work with though.


In this case, “buzz” is a broad term for things such as previews, reviews, gossip and spoilers, and anything else media related.

This is where the traditional television format has a sizable advantage over SVOD series. Though it often annoys the hell out of viewers, an episode once a week keeps everyone on the same page, with the exception of a few stragglers. Fans get a full week to dissect an episode, discuss it, and prepare for the next installment. Media sites like us at SpoilerTV get access to press releases and screeners which allow us to provide content for fans to enjoy. What’s more, we get to do this over around two thirds of a year with a longer series.

This won’t be the case for SVOD series, however. Binge watching creates an instant division in pace among the fans. Hard core fans will consume a 13 episode series inside 24 hours in some cases, while other fans simply won’t have the time or the energy, consuming at a much slower rate. A viewer watching a single episode each day from a 13 episode season would take almost 2 full weeks to get to the end. For media sites, it seems the following Monday is the day they target for their reviews, which inevitably puts slower paced viewers at risk of spoilers, and, of course, means people have to work a full weekend in anticipation of a Monday publication.

It doesn't stop there though. If a series only receives more intense media coverage for a fortnight each year - around 1 week before and 1 week after its release - then building any sort of momentum in the media will be an uphill battle. Traditional television has this sorted though, with ongoing coverage throughout its season, commencing shortly before the premiere, with increased coverage coming around the mid-season finales and premieres, and after notable episodes and milestones.

With SVOD services dependent on growing their subscriber base to finance their content, convincing new subscribers to join will correlate with the media coverage a series receives. It will be an interesting next couple of years as they tinker with advertising models and media avenues to achieve this goal. It’s worth remembering that the next generation of viewers like me will have grown up on the internet, and will happily cut cords as they see fit. This makes them much harder to reach with traditional media formats.

For the fans themselves, the days of discussing last night’s episode during the coffee break could be numbered. If everyone has watched differing episodes of the latest SVOD series, carnage could ensue.


Time is a biggie for viewers across the board. Put simply, viewers hate waiting for anything. In the film industry, waiting is just part of the fun, as a popular franchise pushes new releases out every 2-3 years.

With the advent of binge watching, both the television and film worlds will collide. While television viewers will get a good dozen hours of content to watch every year, film viewers would see around a sixth of that in double the time, so it goes without saying that television viewers don’t have it as bad.

But it’s still a lot of waiting nonetheless. In traditional television production, the studios are around 3 to 6 episodes ahead of what viewers are seeing on a weekly basis. Viewers have a standard hiatus typically ranging from 4 to 8 months depending on the series. It’s tolerable for most, but then again viewers have no other choice. It’s also very easy to simply forget what happened last time you tuned in, whether that be a week or a year after the last installment.

With the primary niche SVOD services have being their ability to dump an entire season online at once; the more dedicated fans will chew through that in a handful of days. The major downside of that is they’ll have to wait around a year for the next installment. In House of Cards’ case, it was 54 weeks between seasons. With Orange is the New Black, the wait for season 2 was 47 weeks, while season 3 comes 53 weeks after the second.

The only way this can be solved is by dramatically reducing the gap between seasons. What I’m hoping may occur is SVOD services beginning to produce two shorter seasons of 10-12 episodes each year if a 26 episode production schedule is too demanding. My guess is this is still a few years off though, even though in theory this is the same as what more and more network television series – particularly on ABC – are exploring. While a full season will be produced at in one hit, a substantial hiatus at the season’s midpoint allows the network to run both halves with little or no interruption.

Quality vs Quantity

The debate on time provides a good segway into this topic. It’s commonplace thinking among traditional cable networks that shorter is best. Rarely does anything from their production houses push past 15 episodes in length.

In the case of traditional broadcast networks, filling their schedule from September through to May requires around 22-24 episodes. But the problem with that is even the best of the best series with that sort of episode order simply cannot produce mind-blowing quality television for each of those weeks. A good general rule of thumb is to expect around a half dozen of those episodes to be “fillers” which serve no major purpose other than to fill up a slot. They’re typically among the worst of the episodes to air in their season as they’re much lighter on the intensity and content.

So when you’re an SVOD service looking to add an epic new series to your library, would you pick something longer like Person of Interest, or shorter like Game of Thrones or The 100?

Well, they wouldn't take long to choose shorter.


That’s simple too. They don’t have a schedule to fill for starters. Then there’s money. A long season on a traditional network pays its way throughout the year in advertising, but with SVOD services not having to concern themselves over advertising as a source of income, a longer season would only end up costing them more to produce, but wouldn't necessarily generate them any more revenue unless they sold a series to traditional networks in markets where they don’t yet have a presence.

In addition, a shorter season takes binge watchers less time to watch, ensures the division between the fan base is smaller (see Buzz), and without the half dozen filler episodes, they are more likely to have a better quality series overall. Another minor point to consider would be talent attraction, most recently in the case of Viola Davis, whose contract capped the length of ABC’s How To Get Away With Murder to 15 episodes in its first season. If SVOD services are looking to attract more big name film stars to the small screen, then their workload will be a major consideration before a signature is put on anything.

The crux of this is to expect shorter seasons, with better overall quality, with a possible aim to push out more than one season per year, or one season in several parts.


While the internet will remain one of mankind’s most important and defining inventions, its accessibility in the majority of the world is still comparatively small. Even in many developed countries, internet can be unreliable, slow, expensive or non-existent in many areas. As people turn to SVOD services for their entertainment needs, it goes without saying that any of those four barriers on their own will have a significant impact on them being able to enjoy the services on offer.

Unfortunately there isn't a quick fix for this. Low population densities and topographical conditions in some places make it uneconomical for telecommunications companies or governments to invest in better infrastructure. So while 95% of a country’s population may have access to the internet in some form, only half of those may have internet access that is good enough to support a highly demanding service such as Netflix, and a further half of those would be willing to use Netflix in the first place. The flow-on effects of that include less revenue potential for SVOD services, which reduces their willingness to offer their service in that country to begin with.

Just like how television began decades ago, it required ongoing investment from many other industries to make it what it is today. With SVOD services initiating another paradigm shift, investment must once again occur to allow the services to reach further, increase customer volumes, and generate further profits to reinvest in new content.

The Viewing Experience

There’s nothing much easier than plonking yourself down on the couch with a selection of junk food and intoxicating beverages and turning on the television. Whatever happens to be on is what you end up withering away a couple of hours watching.

With SVOD services, at present, it isn't as easy to do this. From hundreds of hours of use my Netflix library has developed a reasonably refined taste for what I’m likely to enjoy, but after a long day, the energy required to choose something to watch is often too great. The sheer volume of things to watch is also daunting at times – I've regularly spent half an hour or more in a more energized state browsing for something to watch, only to give up, turn on my server, and choose something by shutting my eyes, mashing the arrow and enter keys, and watching whatever gets chosen.

So clearly, the massive number of choices can be too daunting. Music services are slowly perfecting the art of making random selection a more successful process, but it’s a different kettle of fish when a recommended music track is 4 minutes long, while a recommended movie or television series could stretch across several hours.

That aside, what about the actual viewing experience?

SVOD services provide ample viewing options for people to choose from. Netflix supports a few dozen devices, ranging from PCs and Macs, smartphones and tablets, set top boxes and gaming consoles. Their early foray into the market has allowed them the time and the money to provide all this support. While I stick with my very expensive computer system for my Netflix habits, others enjoy the portability SVOD services provide with their mobile devices.

But Netflix and Amazon aren't the only market players – even though they are among the biggest.

Take New Zealand as an example. Why? Because it’s where I’m from. Two new local services have entered the market in the last few months – they were clearly rushed when Netflix announced its arrival here and in Australia later this month. When Netflix launches it will be available on the full suite of devices that support it in other markets such as the US, but the two local services – Lightbox and Neon – only support computers and some smartphones and tablets. Lightbox launched reasonably well, but has a pitiful selection of content, while Neon had a better selection of content but was so rushed that its service doesn't even support HD yet, and its launch was further delayed because their iOS app hadn't yet been approved by Apple.

Unsurprisingly, New Zealand has tens of thousands of people like me who have been using Netflix for years thanks to VPNs and proxies, and the farcical, highly publicized launches had us all howling with laughter. Their prices were also very high, making Netflix considerably cheaper and substantially better value for money.

A third local SVOD service, Quickflix, which has been around for a couple of years, with a more established presence, saw its share price halve when Netflix announced it was launching here. It’s not an unrealistic forecast to expect one or two of these services not to survive for much longer, given Netflix’s reputation as the holy grail of SVOD services. The bottom line is people want lots of content, at a competitive price, and they want a quality service with multiple ways to watch. But with much larger international companies constantly spreading their tentacles into additional markets, could this limit the number of services available, to the detriment of the SVOD industry?

When comparing this predicament to traditional television, it’s a difficult and expensive exercise to establish a start-up channel among free to air and pay TV giants that have already established themselves. Again in New Zealand, several small, mainly niche channels have appeared and vanished in the last 5 years, driven out of the market by competition too intense for them to handle.

I anticipate start-up SVOD services to encounter the same problems, with failures commonplace too. This might not occur in New Zealand thanks to our small population and limited market potential, but for larger countries the case could be different. Viewers will have to decide whether it’s worth supporting a start-up SVOD service especially when their content and device support is nowhere near the level of the bigger competitors. Time will surely tell.


In summary, SVOD services are the next game changer in the television industry. Very few aspects of the industry will escape a good shakeup as SVOD services become ubiquitous. The types of content we are given to consume will change to support the new business model, and the way viewership data is analyzed will cause a whole range of challenges for the SVOD services and fans alike. With schedules done away with, the demands on the fans themselves, and the media which provide content will change drastically. Shorter seasons should equal better content for viewers, but the time between seasons will pose a new set of challenges. Access to content will require significant investment in areas where it isn't currently possible, and as SVOD services compete for subscribers’ hard earned dollar, those with a more established presence and larger content libraries will be in a much stronger initial position.

Thanks for reading! This has been one of the longest articles I've written for SpoilerTV, so I hope you enjoyed it! I’m sure I’m barely scratching the surface of this subject, and I know you’ll have your own opinions, so please share them in the comments below!

About the Author - Jimmy Ryan
Jimmy Ryan lives in New Zealand, and works in the IT industry. He is an avid follower of drama television and has a keen interest for television ratings and statistics. Some of his favorite shows right now are Person of Interest, Scandal, House of Cards, Orphan Black, The Blacklist, The 100, How To Get Away With Murder, Elementary and Castle. You can visit his television ratings website, or follow him on Twitter, @SeriesMonitor.
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