tv shows

The rise of shorter TV shows

The final episode of Game of Thrones had a runtime of 85 minutes. And while this lengthy runtime obviously works for such a complex and intricate TV shows. But not everyone has the time, energy and focus to sit through such lengthy episodes no matter how acclaimed or award winning they are. The introduction of streaming services like Netflix and Stan and original web series has done a lot to change the way we consume television programs. But one thing has remained the same: runtime.

tv shows

Most TV shows run anywhere between 10 – 100 minutes. With the average “hour-long” show running for about 42 minutes and the “half-hour” shows running from about 22 minutes to the full 30, minus commercial breaks (remember commercial breaks?). Most TV shows on streaming services have stuck with this tradition for the most part. Even though they don’t have to adhere to traditional broadcast time slots or commercial breaks. This has led to TV shows with longer runtimes like The Crown. Which has an average runtime of about 60 minutes.

However, streaming companies like Netflix have started realising that shows with long runtimes may not be as popular as they were in the past. Studies have shown that most viewers have short attention spans which they tend to split with their smartphones, tablets, and laptops while watching TV. Their potential antidote to this is the short form episode. Netflix has begun showcasing a small selection of shows with short episodes that run for a maximum of 17 minutes. Shows like I Think You Should Leave and Bonding, It’s Bruno! feature bite-sized plots and short form episodes and seasons that can be completed in the course of a night.

The start of short run times

TV shows with such short runtimes were traditionally reserved for children’s channels like Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon as it’s quite a challenge to act out fully realised story in such a short time. All whilst holding the attention of busy minds. Still, it seems like Netflix is creating more shows that can be told in short chunks as a way to fill the 15-minute per episode niche. For example, the Netflix show, I Think You Should Leave squeezes about five scenes into its short runtime. This meant that the show’s scriptwriters and actors had to make the most of every scene. 

tv shows that are short

However, this format of shorter TV shows is only successful for a specific type of show. Such as those with low stakes and simple storylines that are not compromised as a result of the time constraint. But while this format may be great for some it raises the question: is it possible to act out a complex storyline in that time? And enough to satisfy the viewer and hook them into the journey?

Well, the new Netflix show Bonding attempted this with a fresh and complex story arc which left viewers with mixed reactions. While some viewers appreciated the show’s shorter runtime, others felt that it didn’t manage to build a strong enough foundation for its finale. I, of course, loved it.

TV show timing and plots

While there will always be shows like Game of Thrones that have interesting plots and storylines that can fill an hour without tiring out its viewers, this type of show just won’t work in a 15-minute format. The most compelling TV shows feature several moving parts that make it necessary for them to have longer runtimes. This allows the show to fully develop without having the viewers feel like they are being dragged along. That’s not to say that the idea of TV shows with short runtimes should be scrapped entirely. There’s certainly a place for them. And I predict we’ll see more and more of them in due course (alongside longer shows as well).

In a way, it helps clear up the air surrounding modern TV shows as streaming companies can now easily classify their shows for viewers. The hour-long format can be reserved for epic shows like Game of Thrones, thoughtful comedies and dramas can fall into the 30-minute format while the 15-minute long shows can serve as a filler for those who don’t have enough patience for longer shows. Especially, if you like a quick resolve.

What’s your favourite length of show?

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