Welcome to the Era of the 10-Minute Episode

State of the Union and streaming service Quibi are paving the way for premium short-form programming.

by | June 10, 2019 | Comments

The day after Game of Thrones aired one of its longest episodes ever — the super-sized, near-feature-length epic “The Last of the Starks” — SundanceTV premiered a series with episodes that clock in at a tidy 10 minutes each.

Ten-episode series State of the Union stars Rosamund Pike and Chris O’Dowd as a married couple going through a rough patch after a “spot of infidelity.” Each episode follows the pair in real-time as they meet in a pub before going across the street to marital counselling, discussing how they got to where they are and the events of the previous session every week. Director Stephen Frears captures these conversations, which go from heartfelt to hilarious at a moment’s notice.

State of the Union, which is currently 100% Fresh with 15 reviews, is just one example of a growing trend of high-quality short-form programming, a format that was once the realm of viral YouTube videos and is now getting attention from mainstream studios and well-funded startups.

Snapchat is making serious investments in original content, Netflix’s sketch comedy series I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson is being praised for its peppy 15-minute episodes, and former Disney and DreamWorks Animation bigwig Jeffrey Katzenberg is looking to jumpstart a whole new entertainment industry with short-form start-up, Quibi, led by CEO Meg Whitman.

Nick Hornby’s Comedy Experiment — in Brief

Rosamund Pike as Louise, Chris O’Dowd as Tom - State of the Union _ Season 1, Episode 4 - Photo Credit: Parisatag Hizadeh/Confession Films/SundanceTV
(Photo by Parisatag Hizadeh/Confession Films/SundanceTV)

But State of the Union’s writer, High Fidelity and About a Boy scribe Nick Hornby, wasn’t looking to disrupt anything when he came up with the idea.

“That was just something I wanted to try to see if I could have any fun with it or make it work,” Hornby told Rotten Tomatoes. “I had the idea of the setup, people talking immediately before therapy, sometime before.”

The constraints of the short-form format were an unexpected source of creative freedom, the author and screenwriter added.

“Even though I [only] had 10 pages, those 10 pages were actually very liberating,” he said. “Certainly with movies no one is going to let you write a scene with 10 minutes of dialogue in it.”

The dialogue is, essentially, the whole show, although both O’Dowd and especially Pike speak volumes with just their facial expressions as the two sit down across a pub table and attempt to determine what they feel for one another. Hornby stressed that the short length of the series didn’t necessarily make things easier for the actors, because actors “never get parts where they have literally 50 percent of the script,” as is the case in this series.

Even though State of the Union is primarily a comedy, the couple’s conversations have real emotional heft.

“I think that State of the Union, although it can be consumed in bite-size chunks, actually demands a lot of attention,” executive producer Jamie Laurenson said. “It’s very funny and entertaining, but you have to concentrate. It’s not lightweight because it’s small in size.”

Streamer Quibi Bets on Mobile

Although Katzenberg’s Quibi is yet to launch, the Hollywood veteran’s new venture is aiming to capture a similar sort of feeling — snackable, but filling. The name itself is short for “quick bites.”

Katzenberg and Whitman announced some details this weekend at the Produced By conference on Saturday in Los Angeles, and Katzenberg revealed more on Sunday at the Banff World Media Festival. Some of the details that emerged:

  • Quibi will launch in the U.S. on April 6, 2020
  • There will be two pricing tiers at launch: the first, for $4.99, with one pre-roll ad before each video segment, including a 10-second ad if the video is less than 5 minutes, and a 15-second ad for 5- to 10-minute videos. 2. an ad-free option at $7.99
  • Approximately 7,000 pieces of content will be available within the first year
  • The company will spend $1 billion on content
  • The service’s core-demo is aged 25-35
  • Videos to be 7-10 minutes

Some of the announced content includes:

  • An untitled horror series from Steven Spielberg, four episodes of which Spielberg will write himself.
  • #Freerayshawn starring Stephen James and Laurence Fishburne about Iraq War veteran Rayshawn (James), who is on the run after being set up by New Orleans police on a drug deal. The $15 million project is from Sony Pictures Television.
  • An untitled Steven Soderbergh project.
  • A non-scripted series from James Corden’s Fulwell 73 featuring Israeli mentalist Lior Suchard.
  • Punk’d and Singled Out reboots from MTV Studios.
  • Anna Kendrick comedy Dummy from Deadbeat co-creator Cody Heller and independent studio Wiip.

In a keynote presentation at South by Southwest this March, Katzenberg explained that Quibi, in addition to creating content that is specifically created for the time and technical demands of mobile viewing — the shows will be full screen in landscape and portrait mode, for example — will borrow from both film and TV. So they’ll be feature length, but broken up into episodes that are easy to squeeze in or to binge, whatever the viewer’s circumstances demand.

“We’re bringing those two creative, narrative forces together,” Katzenberg said at the time. “A series, for us, is a two- to two-and-a-half-hour story, told in act breaks that are eight to 10 minutes long.

Katzenberg’s vision has drawn top talent and top dollar, and he makes the case that the startup is an entertainment pioneer akin to HBO, which seemed like a risky venture when it first came on the scene. He and other players in the short-form game are trying to tap into an uncharted market: would-be viewers who want quality, narrative storytelling that’s broken into chunks that fit into their busy (and mobile) modern lives.

Snackable Storytelling Treats to Take on the Go

Rosamund Pike as Louise, Chris O’Dowd as Tom - State of the Union _ Season 1, Episode 3 - Photo Credit: Parisatag Hizadeh/Confession Films/SundanceTV
(Photo by Parisatag Hizadeh/Confession Films/SundanceTV)

“I know Quibi has very specific ambitions for their version of short-form content, and I think Jeffrey Katzenberg has publicly stated that he thinks it’s the answer to capturing younger audiences,” Hakan Kousetta, COO of Television for State of the Union producer See Saw Films, told Rotten Tomatoes. “I’m not sure I quite agree with that, but I do think that giving people as much opportunity to watch programs when they want in a way that’s convenient to them will always be the answer to increasing demand.”

If that’s a 10-minute episode on a bus ride while waiting for a dentist appointment, great. If it’s binging an entire series so that it essentially acts like a feature-length movie, also great. State of the Union, for instance, which premiered with all 10 episodes running back-to-back like a film at Sundance, still holds up in this format.

“You can watch three episodes back-to-back and have a half-an-hour slot show, or you can watch 100 minutes back-to-back, and it all works,” Kousetta said. “It doesn’t shortchange you if you want to consume it in that way.”

For his part, Hornby didn’t concern himself too much with the question of whether he was making a movie or if he was making a TV series.

“I really didn’t know what it was,” he said. “It was a TV show because it was bought by people who wanted to make it into a TV show. I didn’t ever think of it as being a movie. I thought it might be something that people might snack on. You know, watch on their phones while they’re sitting on the bus, or whatever, but you could have a complete experience over quite a short period of time.”

Put another way, Hornby said, it’s a great alternative to mindlessly scrolling on your phone.

“I think if you watch one episode on your daily commute,” he said, “maybe it’s better than flicking through YouTube videos or Instagram.”

State of the Union is available to watch in full at SundanceTV.

Tag Cloud

Superheroe YouTube Red NYCC miniseries supernatural Chilling Adventures of Sabrina ratings diversity Certified Fresh screenings crime thriller Horror Polls and Games Universal sports renewed TV shows cats Amazon Studios Comic Book Apple Comedy psychological thriller ESPN what to watch Arrowverse Pirates FX on Hulu reviews GIFs based on movie Calendar Fox News social media twilight Opinion latino E! Brie Larson First Look die hard cinemax Television Academy OWN NBC DC Comics CNN Toys crime drama zero dark thirty cancelled TV shows Showtime zombies CMT Sundance Now Crunchyroll period drama Baby Yoda Turner Classic Movies Tubi Countdown WarnerMedia El Rey Reality Competition elevated horror teaser Crackle YouTube Premium video on demand Masterpiece Tarantino Hallmark Lifetime Christmas movies The Arrangement Lionsgate 20th Century Fox Action robots Election green book Turner news Extras justice league 2015 zombie Lifetime Creative Arts Emmys all-time Peacock blockbuster festivals stand-up comedy Summer Anna Paquin 007 critics Walt Disney Pictures VH1 Travel Channel Discovery Channel Dark Horse Comics Photos Red Carpet TBS PaleyFest Western BBC Sci-Fi independent YA Reality satire Apple TV Plus comic Trivia The Witch strong female leads X-Men quibi Bravo TCA political drama Logo Ovation comics Thanksgiving TLC Rom-Com Awards Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Funimation IFC unscripted Disney foreign adventure Podcast Fantasy Disney Plus natural history President Cartoon Network Ghostbusters facebook Emmys Marvel Television TIFF FOX Comics on TV south america binge screen actors guild Nominations halloween Christmas Food Network Hear Us Out reboot scary movies toy story Paramount Network game show American Society of Cinematographers LGBT jamie lee curtis Nat Geo PlayStation DC streaming service SXSW Valentine's Day cops VOD cartoon HBO Max Disney streaming service USA Netflix Stephen King Star Trek Paramount christmas movies Cannes The CW spinoff Mystery Year in Review kids GLAAD Comedy Central Pop Best and Worst cars Watching Series Amazon Kids & Family The Purge APB 2016 Spectrum Originals cancelled TV series richard e. Grant Video Games TCA Winter 2020 spain A24 Sneak Peek Infographic singing competition transformers Song of Ice and Fire Character Guide boxoffice dark Holidays Drama Trailer MCU theme song movie Mary Tyler Moore Mary Poppins Returns Chernobyl BBC America talk show Pop TV Film Festival discovery medical drama blaxploitation Hulu spy thriller Tomatazos New York Comic Con Netflix Christmas movies dc cancelled television TruTV DC Universe harry potter canceled streaming MSNBC finale TV renewals science fiction disaster Mindy Kaling crossover sitcom romantic comedy child's play BBC One FX composers dogs Winter TV criterion historical drama anime documentaries Grammys best Quiz Shudder canceled TV shows 24 frames versus RT21 Vudu 2017 Country ABC Family TCA Awards Television Critics Association politics aliens crime Esquire asian-american spider-man Rocky Martial Arts thriller 2018 DirecTV Amazon Prime IFC Films police drama werewolf Mary poppins Super Bowl Animation book Avengers Freeform Pixar AMC animated Pride Month a nightmare on elm street comedies Spike PBS DGA vampires slashers Awards Tour BAFTA comiccon Classic Film Music Lucasfilm rotten movies we love Star Wars mutant Columbia Pictures films war E3 Spring TV TCM sag awards Captain marvel San Diego Comic-Con video nature indiana jones BET documentary VICE History GoT Emmy Nominations Premiere Dates Interview hist LGBTQ mission: impossible Pet Sematary TV Land children's TV Epix sequel USA Network 45 chucky Shondaland YouTube biography Starz Holiday ABC The Walking Dead movies 21st Century Fox Amazon Prime Video dceu travel Family TNT CBS docudrama WGN TCA 2017 Marvel SDCC TV anthology Set visit Disney Channel A&E cooking breaking bad Cosplay Marathons witnail Mudbound RT History Elton John Sony Pictures mockumentary Marvel Studios dragons serial killer ghosts Writers Guild of America Women's History Month tv talk game of thrones Trophy Talk Endgame hispanic ITV doctor who universal monsters Film revenge Hallmark Christmas movies true crime television name the review cancelled Acorn TV indie batman Sundance TV BET Awards Warner Bros. HBO Go Rocketman Academy Awards National Geographic CW Seed adaptation Oscars Rock casting free movies Schedule Musicals Syfy FXX cults award winner joker CBS All Access franchise Heroines concert stoner Teen Adult Swim Musical Britbox Black Mirror Winners First Reviews romance Fall TV parents Disney+ Disney Plus Ellie Kemper Nickelodeon MTV golden globes SundanceTV series Superheroes Black History Month Box Office See It Skip It directors psycho space 2019 Tumblr OneApp HBO technology 4/20 71st Emmy Awards dramedy Apple TV+ Sundance Binge Guide 2020 spanish language Biopics