Will Streaming Companies Free Anime From TV Format Limits?

by Justin Sevakis,

Terry asks:

I watched some House of Cards awhile ago, and I noticed the episodes were about 50 minutes each. I know no made-for-TV shows are 50 minutes, because of the commercial breaks. It got me thinking of the rise of streaming services and their in-house production. My question is whether you think in the future, maybe not close future, we'll start seeing those companies investing in producing anime? If so, will they break away from the typical 12-13, 20 minute episode type shows? Will they maintain manga and novels as source? To me this is interesting because I'm sick of shows that don't have definitive endings.

I'm a little confused by the premise of the question. Without commercials, pretty much every hour-long drama clocks in at 45-50 minutes long. In fact, House of Cards is intentionally set at that length because, while it's a Netflix exclusive in countries where Netflix was active when the show began, it actually is broadcast on Australian TV network Showcase, in New Zealand on TV3, and in India on premium cable/satellite channel Zee Café.

The 21-25 minute half-hour and 42-50 minute hour chunks of programming are, in fact, something of an international standard, and their potential to be sold in territories around the world is the reason that nearly all shows maintain that length, even when they don't have an immediate need to be that length on their original network. HBO and Showtime don't air commercials, but nearly all of their original programming is made to be padded out with commercials and fit neatly into 30-minute scheduling blocks, because in many parts of the world, that's how they're shown. If they don't make the shows in that format, they become less attractive to overseas buyers (who will then have to edit the show down), so unless the show is a gigantic runaway hit or has absolutely no hope of being aired on ad-supported TV, the producers are stuck with those limitations.

Anime too, doesn't really need to be the length it is. The original broadcast time slot for late night anime is bought out by the show's production committee, and the extra time is usually padded out by the producers' own commercials that they just shove in there. There's no reason the committee couldn't say, "screw the extra commercials, let's just make a perfect 30-minute show." But they don't, because then the show wouldn't work on TV elsewhere in the world. (Although occasionally they do go over the "normal" time limit for one episode or so.) OVAs worked the same way: many of them were 23-25 minutes or 50ish minutes, in anticipation of being aired on television later.

And for a while, I expect most made-for-web television series to be limited by similar arrangements. Making a TV show is very expensive, and selling the rights to those shows in every single possible corner of the world is an important way of getting enough revenue to make the whole thing profitable. And we're not just talking about first-run broadcast either. The resyndication market isn't what it once was, but sometimes selling older shows to cable and local broadcasters can keep a TV show bringing in revenues for decades after it originally aired.

Eventually, there will be services available in enough places where selling the rights to other territories is no longer on the radar at all, but I think we're some time away from that. For now, the limitations will probably stay in place for the most part, with a few shows here and there testing the limits. Many TV producers enjoy the timing limitations anyway -- they feel it keeps them disciplined about pacing.

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Anime News Network founder Justin Sevakis wrote Answerman between July 2013 and August 2019, and had over 20 years of experience in the anime business at the time. These days, he's the owner of the video production company MediaOCD, where he produces many anime Blu-rays. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.

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