The rise and fall of TV opening credits

I was recently thinking about the status of a classic threshold of television series – the episode title – and wondering whether the new ways of watching series  – particularly on streaming platforms – actually tended to highlight it more. Then a few weeks later, Netflix announced that they were thinking about removing another even more symbolic threshold: the opening credits. Viewers would be able to skip the opening credits of an episode (whether it actually starts the episode or comes after a pre-credit sequence) and even totally disable them when viewing several episodes of the series in “auto” mode. The project is fairly vague so far and allegedly being tested with a few TV series on a sample group of American users1.

In my view, this innovation should be understood in light of the increasingly common practice of watching episodes in quick succession2. When people watch one episode of a series a week, they don’t get tired of watching opening credits over and over again. When the same sequence is repeated every 26 or 42 minutes over a period of several hours, it is understandable that it can get on people’s nerves3! Also, even if Netflix’s business model does not rely on advertising revenue and thus the need to keep users on the platform for as long as possible, this dimension is clearly part of the company’s objectives. Getting rid of opening credits when watching episodes in quick succession surely helps build user loyalty in some way, not to mention the fact that psychological aspects must come into play (there’s nothing better than the opening credits to hammer home that you’re watching several episodes in one go, which in some cases can make viewers feel guilty about not doing much else)4. Finally, before getting to the heart of the matter, I would like to point out that I do not have the required knowledge to judge the legal feasibility of this idea, other than to say that I am not sure that the credits can be suppressed as easily as that. One illustration would be the tricks television channels use to make end credits as quick or inconspicuous as possible because they are not allowed to cut them completely. Will Netflix make it compulsory to watch the first opening credits of a day’s viewing session and then allow viewers to skip all the others? Will the information given in the opening credits be shown on screen in a more discreet way? And what would happen if someone changes season during their viewing session, since sometimes the opening credits change from one season to the next?

A few theoretical points about opening credits

Opening credits can basically be put into three main categories:

  • The type of opening credits we shall call classic for want of a better term. This is historically the most widespread form and features edited sequences of images showing situations from different episodes and shots of characters in a typical situation, with the name of the actors playing the roles shown on the screen. Until the 1990s, this form was used in the majority of television series opening credits, which tended to get longer with the arrival of hyperlink series in the 1980s because there were more characters/actors to be presented. An example would be the gallery of portraits which make up the opening credits of St Elsewhere or Hill Street Blues. Today, this type of opening sequence is less common and the series which have such credits are long-lasting series that created their opening credits at a time when this form was more common (Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, broadcast since 1999). Other types of series which have classic opening credits are spin-offs from a main series which had that style of opening sequence and which more or less reproduce the same thing (Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders in 2016, which was a spin-off of Criminal Minds from 2005), or those which play on nostalgia. This is particularly the case of sequels, reformulations or remakes of older series such as Fuller House in 2016, which followed on from Full House (created in 1987).

  • Atmospheric opening credits: This kind of sequence was made popular by cable TV series, even if the model in itself is much older. These opening credits are made up of shots specifically filmed for this threshold, with no presentation of characters/actors. These can show characters in action in all or part of the sequence, with the names of the actors appearing at some moment but without the two elements being synchronized. This is the model par excellence for opening credits on HBO and other cable channels that followed HBO’s example when they started making their own productions. However, there are also examples of forerunners in this style: anthological series with ever-changing casts whose opening credits present the concept and atmosphere (The Twilight Zone or Alfred Hitchcock Presents, for example); sitcoms from the 1960s with animated opening credits (Bewitched5 or I Dream of Jeannie); and a few experiments with the format in dramatic series such as Miami Vice before the style became widespread on cable TV series.

  • Title card opening credits: This is a fairly recent development caused by the increase in time given over to advertising by the networks and consists of a card just showing the series title. A classic or atmospheric opening sequence meant 30 seconds to a minute being lost each week. Reducing the opening credits to a title card shown for a few seconds, sometimes accompanied by a characteristic sound or a few notes of music, means precious seconds are saved every week. Among the first series to use this format and make it popular were 24 (FOX, 2001–10) or Lost (ABC, 2004–10). However, this format is not limited to the networks as certain series broadcast on basic cable channels (those available in packages rather than pay channels like HBO or Showtime) used it when it began to appear. The Shield, which was broadcast on FX (2002–08), is an example but used a slightly hybrid form: after the pre-credit “summary of previous episodes”, the pre-credit “teaser” sequence is intercut with black cards showing the series title and the names of the lead actors. Then, at the end of this sequence, the title card appears showing a police badge accompanied by a few seconds of the series’ theme music.

Obviously, there are borderline cases of opening credits which blur the boundaries between the different genres or play with them. The opening credits of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (which began to air on Netflix in 2015) have elements of both the classic style – certain images and the music come from the first episode of the series, the name of the lead actress is shown in a shot of her coming out of the bunker – and the atmospheric style – many of the shots come from outside the series itself and the edited sequence references a viral video on the Internet. In a completely different genre, the opening credits sequence of CHiPs (NBC, 1977–83) does include two portrait-shots of the main characters, with the actors’ names shown. However, the other shots (it is hard to tell if some of these are cutaway shots from the series itself or shots filmed specifically for the opening credits) show the two motorcyclists riding from a motorway lay-by to the outskirts of the city (the final shot pulls back to show the skyscrapers of Los Angeles) and plays on the codes of Westerns, particularly the dialectic between very long shots of the wide open spaces that need to be brought under control and close-ups of the prototypical features of these bikers/sheriffs and their motorbikes/horses.

Today, the situation can be broadly resumed as involving the fairly widespread disappearance of classic opening credits (which are mainly used for network series that are either fairly old or play the “tradition” card), an increase in atmospheric opening credits on cable channels, and original productions on digital streaming platforms. The latter type of opening credits are becoming longer and longer to differentiate them from the increasingly short title card opening credits which have spread to the large majority of series broadcast on the networks. In this rather specific context (the differentiation of types of opening credits), how should Netflix’s project to get rid of the opening credits threshold be analysed?

The opening credits policy in video streaming platforms’ original productions

As this summary has briefly shown, opening credits today have a greater semantic value than simply presenting the contents of a series. Besides this programmatic aim (this promise), there are “effects of meaning” upon the way in which producers and/or broadcasters consider the programme, and these effects are partly perceived by the audience, who have become used to this type of communication. Without a common culture of these effects of meaning, this kind of parody on an opening credits sequence would be impossible, for example:

Video title: The opening credits of Luke Cage in the style of nineties sitcoms will change your view of the Netflix series!

Let’s take a closer look at the opening credits of original productions by the three main video streaming platforms in the United States – Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Video6. For the purposes of this study, I have grouped together all the live action series (as opposed to animated series) for adults (as opposed to programmes for children or adolescents) which are fictional (as opposed to documentary series in the strict sense, stand-up comedy, or variety shows), and which were being broadcast on 20 March 20177 . That gave 31 series for Netflix8 (16 drama series and 15 comedy series), 12 for Hulu9 (5 drama series and 7 comedy series) and 16 for Amazon Video (8 from each genre).

Here is an initial summary of the lengths of the opening credits sequences from the series in the corpus10:

Minimum threshold (in seconds) Maximum threshold (in seconds)  Average length (in seconds)
 Netflix 5 113 51.77
Hulu 0 52 20.33
Amazon Video 3 90 38.56

The figure of 0 as the minimum threshold for Hulu series can be explained by the system used by two comedies (The Wrong Mans and Casual), which just have the title superimposed on the sequence of the show instead of opening credits. Casual does not even add any theme music.

However, these absolute figures are not very representative as the genre of the series clearly influences the opening credits and the design thereof. Atmospheric opening credits are more suitable for drama series while title cards are used more often in comedies, particularly because the episodes are shorter than those of drama series. Also, given that slightly longer opening credits have almost totally disappeared from the networks, an opening credits sequence which last several dozen seconds tends to reflect the series’ aim to be seen as high-quality cable television. Here is the data for Netflix, with the two genres separated:

Netflix Minimum threshold (in seconds) Maximum threshold (in seconds) Average length (in seconds)
 All genres 5 113 51.77
Drama series 48 113 69.5
Comedy series 5 75 32.86

As we can see, opening credits sequences are longer (the opening credits House of Cards beats all the records for dramas, as is the case for Wet Hot American Summer in comedies), with the average for drama series actually being over one minute. This platform generally has the longest opening credits sequences.

Hulu Minimum threshold (in seconds) Maximum threshold (in seconds) Average length (in seconds)
All genres 0 52 22.69
Drama series 8 52 37
Comedy series 0 32 8.43

Conversely, Hulu cultivates a form of brevity (the longest opening credits are shorter than the average opening credits sequence on Netflix). Certain series even do away with the opening credits entirely and just superimpose the title on the sequence shown, which is a system like a title card but with even greater fluidity. On average, the opening credits on Hulu are two to three times shorter than on Netflix.

Amazon Video Minimum threshold (in seconds) Maximum threshold (in seconds) Average length (in seconds)
All genres 3 90 38.56
Drama series 4 90 51.13
Comedy series 3 60 26

On average, Amazon Video is in a midway position, but it is more diversified in that the lengths of the opening credits sequences can be at one extreme or the other. The opening credits for drama on Amazon Video may thus be extremely short or very long (the differences within a genre are smaller on the two other platforms). This is also the case for comedy series, where the maximum threshold is not far from the maximum on Netflix for this genre.

Thus, if we just take into account the duration of opening credits sequences and accept that this criterion is relevant in assessing a form of aesthetic positioning, Netflix would be close to a cable TV aesthetic while Hulu has more of a network aesthetic. However, this is a rather crude way of measuring and needs to be refined by taking a closer look at what types of opening credits are represented in each category on each of the platforms.

Fig. 1: Distribution of opening credits sequences on television series produced by the video streaming platforms according to the genres of the programmes and the types of opening credits.

Fig. 1: Distribution of opening credits sequences on television series produced by the video streaming platforms according to the genres of the programmes and the types of opening credits.

Figure 1 clearly shows an overrepresentation of atmospheric opening credits (which are generally long) on Netflix, including for comedy series, with this type of sequence used almost twice as much as title card opening credits11. Amazon Video uses atmospheric opening credits a lot but has more title card opening credits on its comedy series, without making this the most commonly used form. Again, Hulu is distinct from the two other platforms: atmospheric opening credits are only in the majority for drama series and title card opening credits predominate for comedies12.

Tensions between flow and stock

In my doctoral thesis, I showed that the choice of a category of opening credits was not taken at random and that it was one of the elements portraying the ethos of the programme and even of the channel13. Which practices are adopted by each of the three platforms considered in this article?

To study this question, we first need to take a closer look at how the platforms function, as their modes of operating are not completely identical. One common factor shared by the three platforms is that they can be accessed only after paying a specific subscription, which makes their mode of functioning similar to that of pay channels such as HBO and Showtime, or Canal Plus in France. However, their ecosystems differ greatly14:

  • Netflix has the most closed ecosystem: the platform shows stocks of episodes of TV series from other television channels dating, at best, from the previous series, and also its own series. All the episodes of the same season are made available for viewers on the same day. In both cases (productions bought from other channels and in-house productions), a whole season of a series is always made available in one go. Here Netflix is reproducing its initial model – home borrowing of video cassettes and DVDs, in which series were brought out season by season after initial broadcasting on television. From an economic standpoint, a Netflix subscription provides access to the whole of the platform’s content without advertising.
  • Hulu has the most open system, which is linked to its history because when it began it was initially a joint venture run by NBC Universal, 21st Century Fox and The Walt Disney Company (which owns ABC), and so enabled viewers to catch up on episodes broadcast shortly beforehand on these networks. The delay between the terrestrial broadcasting of an episode and online availability varied from a day to a week. The same system is used today15 and the catalogue of episodes available on Hulu is thus built up by new episodes being added weekly16. The same model applies when Hulu brings out an original production – the show is made available on one specific day as if it was a broadcasting day and a season of an original Hulu series is thus spread out over several weeks, with one episode shown per week17. Hulu has a mixed business model, with users paying for subscriptions and the broadcasting of short18 advertising breaks19. Users can pay a few dollars extra per month not to have the advertising breaks.
  • Amazon Video has a multi-level model: as far as programmes bought from other channels are concerned, the past seasons of a great number of series are accessible with the Prime Video subscription20. This type of subscription does not, however, give users access to episodes of a current season, which can be bought by the unit or with a “Season Pass”, which gives access to the whole season. The latter is cheaper than buying on a per-unit basis and involves episodes being made available over a period of time, depending on their initial broadcast. Original Amazon productions are accessible only to Prime Video subscribers and all the episodes from one season are made available on the same day21. All these series are broadcast without advertising breaks. Amazon thus seems to be halfway between Netflix and Hulu: there is a subscription enabling viewers to access previous seasons and original productions (like Netflix), but the current broadcasting schedule is also taken into account, with such shows being available for individual purchase rather than on a subscription basis.

It should also be noted that Hulu and Amazon Video have another close link with current television broadcasting as they offer specific subscriptions to the content of pay channels. HBO, Showtime, Starz, Acorn TV and many other channels are available on Amazon Channels, while Showtime can be accessed on Hulu via the Showtime add-on.

In terms of prices, the three services are in a similar range (as of 31 March 2017 in the United States). Netflix’s prices range from $7.99 to $11.99 according to whether users opt for HD and depending on the number of screens that have simultaneous access to the service. Hulu also offers a basic subscription of $7.99, or 11.99 dollars for access without advertising. Finally, a subscription to Amazon Prime Video costs $8.99 per month but is also included in the Amazon Prime subscription (providing a package of services) at $10.99 per month or $99 per year, which comes to a monthly price of $8.25.

Image from the opening credits sequence of the series Dream On

A few points can be deduced from this rapid comparison of the service provided by these three platforms in terms of how they position themselves in relation to television content. Television content is generally analysed by dividing it into two types – flow programmes22) and stock programmes23. The delinearization of content has led observers to ask whether this distinction is still relevant. Stock programmes remain stock programmes, but can the same be said about flow programmes, which make sense in the very flow of television broadcasting? Here we clearly need to differentiate between catch-up television in the strict sense and video streaming platforms. Catch-up television enables viewers to see the day’s news programme if they missed it, for example. This remains within the logic of the ephemerality of these programmes, by generally only making them available for a week, to the extent that these sites, applications or platforms are under the name of the channel or audiovisual group that owns the channel. Conversely, video streaming platforms are separate entities from the channels and tend to enlarge the notion of stock programming. When episodes of American Ninja Warrior or MasterChef are available on Hulu for several weeks or months after the last episode was broadcast (when everyone knows who won, which immediately reduces the value of the programme, in the same way as the value of a football match goes down at the final whistle), do the programmes concerned remain 100% in the flow programming category? It seems to me that the rebroadcasting potential represented by these programmes being hosted on flow video streaming platforms conversely tends to “stockify” television content.

Certain platforms, like Netflix, function totally according to the logic of stock. The series bought by Netflix are 100% stock because they never include the current series and the platform also applies the same policy to its own productions, by delivering a whole season in one go. Amazon is in a similar situation with its Prime Video subscription24, and the platform thus delivers its own productions on the basis of a “stock logic” by which all the episodes are accessible on the same day.

Conversely, Hulu seems to function on the basis of a flow logic, therefore remaining faithful to the philosophy of its founding companies. Its schedule is based on the schedules of the television channels, as it makes episodes of series it has bought the rights to available the day after the traditional broadcast. These episodes are generally stocked for the duration of their season at least, or the whole of a series may also be stocked. The same policy is applied to Hulu’s own productions. Hulu is therefore at the crossroads of the two types of programming, with an intermixing of the two approaches and the emphasis of scheduling by using the only remaining possible variable: the date of the first broadcast25). In other words, Hulu is the only platform which respects a purely televisual imperative, namely scheduling. By doing this, Hulu reinvents the notion of temporality, which has tended to be obliterated by television series being solely defined as stock programmes. The notion of the spoiler and the embargos imposed by channels and broadcasters on journalists who see a preview of a programme clearly show that a television series exists within a temporal reception flow that delinearization does not remove.

Video title: The French show C À Vous parodies the opening credits of House of Cards when Kevin Spacey guested on the show.

What is at play with the opening credits on Netflix?

Now we have established the issues at stake with opening credits, how should we interpret Netflix’s announcement that the opening credits can be “skipped”? In some ways, the idea is clearly to push the idea of stock programmes as far as it can go. Actually, the usefulness of opening credits as a threshold is essentially defined within the logic of flow television, in which varied programmes and segments (news shows, advertising, regular topical shows, series, etc.) follow each other with no interruptions and viewers’ attention may fluctuate (the segments are not all equivalent and do not require the same degree of attention). However, when someone has decided to go on a pay-to-watch video platform and watch a given series which starts immediately, there is no longer a need for this signal that the show is beginning (which I called the phatic function of opening credits in my doctoral thesis). Similarly, when watching several episodes in one sitting, there is no longer a need to be immersed in the atmosphere of the series by its opening credits (which I called the presence effect).

However, as well as these obvious economic and psychological reasons, something else seems to be involved. Getting rid of this threshold is the last stage in a logic developed and used by the networks for a long time, involving a greater fluidity of the flow and capturing  the attention of a larger audience. If your opening credits sequence is just a title card then your audience tends to be watching the screen before the programme starts, because the start of the episode is no longer signalled by a specific and relatively long segment. Here attention is captured differently. No longer showing an opening credits sequence tends to erase borders and increase viewing time because people lose count of the number of episodes they actually watch. However, having said that, and as our study shows, Netflix is the platform with the longest opening credits sequences and the most atmospheric opening credits, which means it is closer to a cable TV logic while displaying all the external signs of “Quality TV”.
With this method, then, Netflix attempts to combine two opposing strategies and win on all fronts:

  • The platform offers top-of-the-range series that demonstrate their quality in the first few seconds of an episode through a threshold whose codification has gradually taken on significant semantic importance.
  • However, this very long threshold is an obstacle to those watching a number of episodes in succession and tends to bother this type of audience because it is regularly repeated. And yet the aim is to maintain viewer loyalty and convince the audience that Netflix’s original productions or the programmes in its catalogue are high quality and to encourage them to spend many enjoyable, entertaining hours on the platform.

To some extent, this echoes a remark made about Netflix by Bruno Patino, in his excellent Télévisions (p. 144):

By moving from a physical to digital format, Netflix has paradoxically given up on comprehensiveness in favour of relative scarcity. This phenomenon does not enable them to be a simple video-on-demand service because the probability that a user will want to watch an unavailable programme is too high. To satisfy its clients, Netflix therefore has to create demand by producing series with high media coverage potential, which it powerfully promotes. […] However, the service has to continuously offer something which satisfies each user, who needs to see several programmes suitable for her/him displayed on the screen, thus limiting choice but not user satisfaction. On the contrary even, if users only have the choice between programmes which suit them, they will feel free of the burden of having to make a choice from an unlimited selection on offer.

This tension between completeness and scarcity can also be found, expressed differently, in the case of extremely long opening credits sequences, which can nonetheless be skipped upon request. Netflix is the only one of the three platforms analysed in this article to be in this situation:

  • Amazon Prime Video is actually in a services ecosystem. The most cost-effective way of accessing Amazon Prime Video is not to take out a subscription to this service alone ($8.99 per month) but to take out an annual subscription to Amazon Prime (which comes to $8.25 per month). This provides users with a great number of services, fast and free delivery of a selection of products on the site and even storage of photos on the cloud, digital book or magazine borrowing (like in a public library), unlimited access to music on demand or home delivery of meals from partner restaurants. The cost-effectiveness of Amazon Prime Video therefore cannot be measured by looking at the service itself alone, but by analysing how it captures the attention of consumers, who will become users of other parts of the Amazon ecosystem. The question of product scarcity does not apply because if something is not on Prime Video, there is a very good chance it will be available on Amazon Video (as a unit purchase or as part of a season) or on Amazon Channels.
  • Hulu has an undeniable advantage over Netflix, namely its content, which is renewed and expands on a daily basis. The notion of scarcity therefore has to be interpreted differently in Hulu’s case.

To sum up, the announcement of the possibility of skipping opening credits seems to respond to two objectives:

  • to exist in the media, because Netflix is the only platform to offer this option for the moment and to thus cultivate its image as an innovative Silicon Valley start-up company (as opposed to Amazon, whose head office is in Seattle, and Hulu, which is based in the heart of the Los Angeles television and cinema industries, which denotes different ways of positioning the companies).
  • to respond to audience complaints by providing a way of enhancing the user experience of viewing successive episodes (a mode of consumption which it is in the platform’s interest to promote, given its stock-based strategy), thereby making users an even more captive audience.

These purely industrial decisions more strongly invoke the very status of the television content on offer and represent an increasingly significant break between broadcasting (rather than programming) logics. This leads to inevitable questions about the long-term viability of the business models constructed by these different platforms.

Featured image: Central Perk by Bjarne B. Sunde, licence CC-BY-NC-SA.

This is a translation from French by Richard Dickinson, INIST-CNRS translator, revised by Helen Tomlinson.

Cite this article: "The rise and fall of TV opening credits", by Séverine Barthes in Anthology.
  1. I have not been able to test this button even though I live in the United States and hardly know any more than what has been reported in the press. []
  2. This (the French term visionnage en rafale) is a syntagm which I prefer to the English phrase binge watching because the semantic field of expressions on which it was based  – binge drinkingbinge eating  – suggests a pathological form of behaviour. I am far from being an expert on all the whys and wherefores of real or supposed addiction to series (we should recall at this point that until the nineteenth century, roughly the same was said about printed serial novels), but it seems an exaggeration to me to use such a strong axiologically weighted term with this kind of underlying subtext to refer to watching successive episodes of a series in one sitting. Finally, I consider this expression to inadequately reflect the full range of practices – from programming three, four or five episodes of a series on a television channel, or watching successive episodes of a season on a DVD or platform, to marathon viewing sessions organized by fans. []
  3. We should also note that before these platforms existed, certain DVD viewers used the “skip chapter” function at the end of the pre-credit sequence to go directly to the start of the episode after the opening credits. Unfortunately, these personal practices are unrecorded and thus impossible for researchers to quantify or study correctly. []
  4. Another aspect which perhaps needs to be considered is saving bandwidth, but it is difficult to evaluate what getting rid of opening credits represents from this angle. []
  5. This show is not completely separate from the model because there is still a kind of presentation (drawn) shot of the character, with the actor’s name written next to the drawing. []
  6. I recently found out that Crackle, the platform developed by Sony Entertainment, started making original productions before all its competitors in 2009, but that the programmes were very short, never longer than around 10 minutes in fact. The original series produced by Crackle now have standard formats but remain limited in number. The best known, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, is more of a talk show than a series and will be showing on Netflix from the next season onwards. As the corpus of Crackle series is small, I did not include it in this study. CBS All Access is too new as a platform to be studied here, with a very small corpus of series produced. As for Seeso, which NBC launched in January 2016, its original productions are very limited and correspond only partially to the criteria I defined to construct the corpus. []
  7. To obtain a coherent corpus for the different platforms, I did not include series previously broadcast by a television channel of which a platform took over the production, co-productions with television channels from other countries, or series produced for a market other than the United States. []
  8. I did not include Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life in the corpus as it does not have an opening credits sequence, and is more of a mini-series besides. Similarly, The Characters is defined as fictional but is more of a variety show and therefore was not taken into account either. []
  9. I was unable to consult the episodes of Hulu’s first series, The Confession, so it was necessarily excluded from the corpus. East Los High’s format as a kind of secondary school telenovela made me consider it as a teen series rather than a show for adults. Finally, The Hotwives does not really have an opening credits sequence – the sequence which opens each episode is a parody of reality TV, presenting the characters of the show rather than the actresses playing their roles. In this way, it is not really an opening credits sequence for the series itself. []
  10. We always studied the opening credits of the first season and generally of the first episode except when this was a pilot (for example on Amazon Video), when it did not have an opening credits sequence, or when it had a provisional version which was modified for the rest of the season. []
  11. It should be noted that two series use the classic form even though it is adapted in both cases and is of the same average duration as atmospheric opening credits. []
  12. Two of these use the process of superimposition so that the flow of the episode is not interrupted. []
  13. This notion of a channel’s ethos is in some ways close to the idea of editorial articulation developed by Yves Jeanneret and Emmanuel Souchier and puts the rhetorical dimension of the relation between the audience and the channel at the heart of thinking on this topic. An example of a study of a channel’s ethos can be found in a chapter I wrote about RTL for the book edited by Marion Colas-Blaise and Gian-Maria Tore, Médias et Médiations culturelles au Luxembourg (2011, Luxembourg: Editions Guy Binsfeld), “De Télé-Luxembourg à RTL 9 : programmation et ethos du canal luxembourgeois francophone”. []
  14. All these platforms offer both feature films and television programmes but here we took only the latter into account. []
  15. Sometimes there are changes to this system. For example, only the last five episodes of certain series – Chicago Fire for example – are available and the whole season is not kept on Hulu. []
  16. Depending on the series in question, once a season ends all its episodes may remain available until the start of the following season, when the stock of episodes of the series begins at zero again. This is the case with Chicago P.D. for example and for programmes with more of a “sell-by date”, like reality TV shows, competitions like American Ninja Warrior or cooking shows. In other cases, the agreements concluded provide for the season to be kept and added to previous seasons. In this way, the whole of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit can be viewed from the pilot onwards and each new episode of the current 18th season is added to the collection on a weekly basis. []
  17. There are a few exceptions to this. It is not entirely clear whether these were tests aimed at finding out if a “Netflix-style” formula was cost effective or rather that the series were considered weaker, with the risk of more of the audience switching off if the period over which they were broadcast was longer. The series concerned are Shut EyeDeadbeatResident Advisors and Freakish. []
  18. The brevity of advertising breaks is a determining factor here. For example, when Saturday Night Live is shown for free on NBC’s official site or application, there are just as many advertising breaks as with a terrestrial broadcast and these last from 90 to 120 seconds as opposed to several minutes on terrestrial TV. The same episode shown the same day on Hulu will have the same number of breaks, with an average length of 30 to 45 seconds. This means that, for reasons of viewing comfort, those who subscribe to Hulu are better off watching programmes with the catch-up feature than on the channel’s own site. []
  19. The number drops as the programme becomes more obsolete: the older the programme being watched, the fewer advertising breaks there are. Feature films from the cinema do not have advertising breaks. []
  20. I was unable to study all the past seasons of all the series available on Amazon Video, but it seems that series from pay channels (even past seasons) are not concerned by the Prime Video subscription, unlike series made by the networks and basic cable channels. []
  21. With the obvious exception of pilot episodes, because Amazon organizes voting periods during which the pilots it commissioned are broadcast, with the series selected given the green light for production. []
  22. “Flow programmes are only broadcast once. After this, these programmes are no longer of interest, with their value having been ‘consumed’ in this first broadcast. These are programmes with a short shelflife such as live studio shows, news programmes, game shows, weather forecasts, sport and certain magazines. Is it imaginable to rebroadcast the weather forecast a month later? The advantage of flow programmes for pay channels is that they can be interrupted by several advertising breaks.” (Rémy Le Champion and Benoît Danard, Les programmes audiovisuels, La Découverte, coll. “Repères”, p. 5 []
  23. “Stock programmes have a certain heritage value. After their first broadcast, they remain of interest for viewers and thus have economic value. It is not a rare occurrence to see the same documentary or fictional show repeated years later. In other words, there is a bargain or secondary market for stock programmes. Documentaries, fictional and animated shows are in the stock programmes category” (ibid). []
  24. The televisual flow as such is involved only when users can buy a season in advance and then keep it in the same way as a DVD box set. []
  25. “The audiences for audiovisual content become dependent from the first broadcast onwards. Thus the autonomy we refer to is that which becomes possible after the very first moment of the first scheduled broadcast. In this respect, the Internet and the digital format have not called this essential point into question – the offer always takes precedence […]. In other words, autonomy can be relative only and remains subject to strategies implemented by socioeconomic actors involved in the offer and broadcasting.” (Lucien Perticoz and Catherine Dessinges, “Du télé-spectateur au télé visionneur. Les series télévisées face aux mutations des consommations audiovisuelles”, Études de Communication no. 44, 2015, p. 121 []