Believe it or not, there was a time when none of us had heard of Walter White. In those dim and distant days, television itself was a very different animal.
Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan freely admits that without his groundbreaking series being championed by Netflix, it may not have reached as large a global audience and may never have attained the cult status it enjoys today.
Indeed, the series was almost cancelled after season 2 and in its early incarnation struggled to build an audience on traditional TV networks. Now it’s the biggest rated show of all time, and the entertainment industry will never be the same again. Breaking Bad rewrote the book when it came to distributing a TV series.
To completely understand what was going on in the final series of Breaking Bad, you needed very precise recall of what had gone before, in over forty plot-crammed episodes – a tricky ask if your viewing had been spread over several months or even years. This is a built-in weakness of linear TV. So Breaking Bad and shows like them are uniquely suited for binge viewing, and “box-set drama” is becoming an art form in its own right
In a world where it’s possible to watch an entire series of 60 or more episodes in the space of a few days, our TV viewing has become more intense and focussed than ever before, and we’re engaging with our TV heroes in a far more personal and obsessive way. We absorb and remember every tiny detail of their lives. We literally own them.
Ultimately I think this will change the way writers create and pitch their ideas to the networks, and who knows, it might even lead to less dumbing down of TV.
Meanwhile, the consuming of terrestrial, satellite and Freeview television – what the industry calls “linear TV” is moving further and further away from “real time” or “live” viewing. The latest generation of viewers – heavy users of mobile platforms and TIVO technology, are consuming an ever greater percentage of their favourite content via “catch-up’. It’s not unusual nowadays for as many as 80% of the audience for a show like Dr Who to view the episodes time-shifted via their TIVO boxes. So where does that leave linear viewing?
If you don’t watch TV live you probably spin through the commercials at high speed, don’t you? Go on, admit it, you do. That may be great for your sanity, but it spells disaster for the broadcasters. Because that’s how they make a profit. If they don’t make a profit, how are they going to make all our favourite shows?
In a few short years good old fashioned linear TV will be purely the domain of live events such as football and The X-Factor and most of our drama, comedy and reality content will be delivered to us via “OTT” platforms such as Netflix, Amazon and NowTV. So we can binge away to our heart’s content. Which will be a good thing. Because all the vast amount of money the broadcasters spend on branding and marketing their channels will be spent instead on producing and distributing great shows like Breaking Bad.