Embracing Digital Storytelling: The Season Recap

We’re in the midst of a massive shift in the way entertainment is consumed; more “cord cutters” are making the switch every day, and the future of TV is changing. What still baffles me though is how so many content producers still confine their thinking to the way things used to be instead of the way they can be.

Case in point: last night season two of Daredevil was launched, and in typical disruptive fashion Netflix released all the episodes at once for binge watching. What was more interesting to me though was the four minute season one recap they started automatically playing when I hit play on episode one of season two. In four minutes I was reminded of all the major plot points of season one, and I can go into season two enjoying that context. It was wonderful!

Compare that with a show orders of magnitude more complex: Game of Thrones. Here’s a show with so many characters, so many devilish plot twits, and so many story lines, it can be challenging to keep it all straight. Compound that with the fact that HBO only releases a new season for digital purchase when the DVD set comes out, and you have easily 10 months between the end of one season and the start of the next. I buy Game of Thrones digitally via iTunes, and patiently wait 10 months hoping for no spoilers. Yet at the start of every new season, all HBO provides is a brief two minute recap of the previous season that barely touches on the plot points. For a show so complex, a per episode summary shown prior to each new episode would be great; or, at the very least, a detailed 15+ minute summary of the past season. I suspect the extras offered on iTunes are the same what are on the Blu-rays. Yet why should digital extras be limited to the amount of data that can fit on a disc? Editing together detailed previous season summaries can be done for a pittance because all the footage already exists.

Another show I watch with an even worse offering for viewers is The Walking Dead. I purchase seasons digitally via Amazon Video, and there are no previous season recaps. Sometimes an episode will start with flashbacks to a previous episode, but they are sparse at best. When you consider that way The Walking Dead breaks up each season into two parts with months in between, I generally start each segment of the season with a vague fuzziness about what is going on. That can’t be what the show creators are hoping for.

What show did it right? Battlestar Galactica comes to mind: every episode started with “Previously on Battlestar Galactica…” and a summary of key plot points that relate to the episode you were about to watch. Season three of BSG had a 43 minute refresher on the story so far covering the mini-series and the first two seasons! BSG also had webisodes that extended the story and fleshed out characters – and this was 12 years ago (2004) when web video content was in its infancy.

The sooner entertainment companies fully embrace the digital realm and deliver content based on the concept of infinite bits the better. In the meantime, I look forward to when Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead end so I can watch all the seasons back to back and truly enjoy the artistry that went into creating each show.