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If you are of a certain age, you know that a tiny number of TV dramas get remembered long after the vast majority have faded away like the disappearing dot on a switched-off antique TV. The Forsyth Saga and The Avengers were certainly ‘appointment to view’ and would, doubtless, have been big binge blockbusters had such a thing existed.
Today, TV drama is good and plentiful beyond all recognition from 10 years ago, let alone forty. Led by HBO, cinematic production values, big name actors and – most importantly – true quality writing has found its way to the small screen, while movies pursue the ‘safe’ dollars in comic characters and endless sagas.
The results have been spectacular: The Sopranos, Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, Mad Men, The Wire, House of Cards – classics to be long remembered all of them.
But isn’t it just as well? Netflix, Amazon Prime, Vue, Hulu + etc, etc, rely, and I mean rely, on the hits to keep coming. Whether they make them or buy them, these OTT brands succeed by providing tent pole series like these and having subscribers salivate, then binge, when the new ones come along.
Have you noticed how they’re pretty cagey about viewing (or should I say streaming) numbers? Is that because without the hits no one is watching much at all? Is it because without the hits they are just more dud, makeweight, third tier channels; exactly the kind that used to be foisted by the dozen on cable operators before they could get to the good stuff. Exactly the kind of channels that could only prosper before the cord-cutting era the OTT players ushered in.
So, all the global OTT players need is for the writers to keep coming up with the very best goods. Before long writers will be on footballer’s wages – and subject to huge transfer fees. No complaint here. But just like there’s only one Messi and one Ronaldo, there just aren’t that many creative geniuses. Certainly not that can sustain season after season; all excellent (or even just good) TV must come to an end, just ask Downton Abbey.
More than security, more than market share, the biggest risk for these OTT players is that their hit factories will produce more misses than hits for a period just long enough for their subscribers to switch off and fade away.