Short-form content has graduated from YouTube to attracting big stars, big studios and big Hollywood backing. Is watching in snippets the future of TV?
State of the Union opens in a bar, where Tom (Chris ODowd) and Louise (Rosamund Pike) hash out an agenda for their marital therapy session over drinks and witty diversions. The two banter and alternately confront and avoid the flailing state of their marriage, before the scene cuts at the therapists door.
And by scene, I mean episode. Each instalment of State of the Union, developed and written by Nick Hornby for Sundance TV, lasts a mere 10 minutes less than half the length of a standard sitcom, and just over a tenth of the latest episode of Game of Thrones. The show, with its two principal characters and single-scene conceit, is peak TV in short-form, specifically designed to fit the time spent between subway stops. At 100 minutes a season, its a refreshing antidote to seemingly endless hours of original shows, said Daniel DAddario, chief TV critic at Variety. There are so many shows nowadays where I think people really feel the burn, because shows can be as long as creators and streaming services want them to be, and they can often be longer than consumers need them to be, he told the Guardian.
Short-form content is not new ask anyone who has gone down a YouTube hole of music videos, makeup tutorials or cooking how-tos but State of the Union represents a growing trend of snackable, stylish short-form from some of Hollywoods major players.
Netflix recently debuted two series with episodes of about 15 minutes: Special, a show about life as a gay man with cerebral palsy adapted from writer and star Ryan OConnells memoir, and Bonding, a series based on creator Rightor Doyles past as the bodyguard for a dominatrix. Just last week, Adult Swim greenlit the quarter-hour comedy series Three Busy Debras, from star Sandy Honig (Isnt It Romantic) and producer Amy Poehler. And the upcoming short-form video platform Quibi arriving from Hollywood titan Jeffrey Katzenberg, formerly the head of Dreamworks, and former eBay chief executive Meg Whitman announced the series #Freerayshawn, directed by Antoine Fuqua and starring If Beale Street Could Talk breakout star Stephan James.
In other words, short-form has gone prestige. Once the purview of DIY YouTubers and aspiring creatives looking for a big break (Issa Rae graduated from the minutes-long webseries The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl to HBOs full-length comedy Insecure), short-form now commands a deep well of resources the backing of major studios, streaming-service budgets and top talent. And as the slate of original content continues to expand, scripted short-form TV may become the most contested battleground for heavyweight tech and content companies, as everyone from Snap to YouTube to Sundance TV compete for a quarter-hour snippet of attention.