“Game of Thrones,” “Mad Men,” “Scandal,” “Breaking Bad,” “House of Cards,” the list goes on and on. Whether these scripted series currently clutter your DVR or Netflix queue, or you’ve merely seen an article about the top T.V. shows to watch this year on social media, I’m going to assume you’ve most likely heard of one of these shows. Why is this?
Well, it’s because of certain cultural shifts that are impacting television storytelling. People are beginning to refer to the current rise in dramatic series as the “new age of television.” We are not just able to watch television on cable and broadcast stations, but now, thanks to streaming services, we can watch as much as we want, whenever we want.
According to Charlie Collier, the President of AMC and Sundance TV, there are four distinct reasons for the cultural shift influencing greater television watching.
First off, technological innovations have drastically improved. We have total control over our television consumption, whether it’s on a computer, tablet, phone or, the traditional route, the television. People didn’t have the luxury to pause or rewind T.V.; they had no other option but to watch whatever program happened to be on the screen. Now, we “watch the shows we like for as long as we like.” Due to streaming services, writers and producers don’t have to be constrained to just one hour segment. They are able to take their time and truly develop a story. Digital video recorders (DVR’s) are yet another piece of technology that gives people more flexibility with when and where they can view their next episode.
As a society, we are also more accepting of individual differences than ever before. Each person has a unique background and television creators are tapping into this to produce meaningful stories. Plots are focusing on sharing stories about gender, sexuality, disability, ethnicity, and so on in order to reflect our society. Some of our favorite characters like Maura Pfefferman in Transparent or Jamal Lion in Empire portray these themes of race, gender and L.G.B.T.Q. Television series are able to show characters with greater diversity because we are becoming more accepting of individuality.
A move away from institutional religion is yet another cultural shift that affects television viewership. Fewer and fewer people disclose having a religious affiliation, which leads people to watch shows that help them answer unconventional questions. Although the acceptance factor from above plays a role, people are using television as a pathway for their own personal discovery. They are looking for different programming as a way to immerse themselves and seek more informal guidance.
Lastly, the easy accessibility of information and its ready availability also helps to shape television. People are able to provide their own opinions on different platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, which has both a negative and positive effect on television. Unruly fan comments or an ill-mannered hashtag has the potential of harming a television show’s popularity. It becomes the job of the PR professional to contain the “backlash.” They must be able to use social media effectively by engaging with followers and maintaining a “buzz.”
The television industry is changing; there is no doubt about it. It has matured and become more inclusive of others. I think television shows will have to find new ways to stand out, especially on social media. But it’s an exciting opportunity for those interested in entertainment PR to help build the brands of some of the most influential shows on television.