The Cutting Up Of Content

Regular readers will know my fascination with True Detective. It’s not just that it’s a great television show; it’s great content, period. I think it stacks up against the best films in the genre that I’ve seen.1 And, in fact, in some ways it’s better because it’s essentially a seven hour film, broken up into more easily digestible pieces.

That last part is the key. True Detective as a seven hour film would be just as amazing as the television show is, but it would be very hard to watch. Attention spans aside, it’s hard to sit through anything for seven hours straight. The genius of True Detective is using the traditional television format of “episodes” to break up the content into easier-to-consume pieces. The sum of those parts is equal to — or perhaps even greater than — the whole if it were one continuous entity.

Of course, none of this is particularly new. But the difference in my mind is that the television content is now equalling — or even surpassing — that of film. House of Cards. Game of Thrones. Etc.2 These are like great films, cut up, and extended. The format isn’t new. But the end result is.

And as I noted earlier today, I think this notion may reinvigorate other mediums as well. We’re starting to see things like Rooster and The Underwriting break up the traditional concept of the novel. There are things like Circa and Yahoo News Digest breaking up the concept of the article. I suspect we’re going to see more extensions of this.

Everyone is now always busy and always connected. Whether you find it sad or not, the reality is that it’s now a lot to ask for anyone to spend several hours doing any one thing. Whether that’s reading a long book or watching a long film.

Sometimes, we desire to do just that, but there’s a huge cognitive barrier even starting one of these larger tasks. I also think that’s why we’re seeing the rise of “binge watching”. It may not be that we don’t want to spend a lot of time doing something — it’s that it’s too hard to dive into a huge time commitment. It’s much easier to dive into a small time commitment and keep going if you’re doing something you enjoying.

And this form of cut content can be used to the advantage of a new wave of content creators. As The Underwriting founder Michelle Miller (who goes by the pen name Sadie Hayes) recently told Elle:

The greatest lesson I learned at J.P. Morgan was in observing how people work in those environments, and watching analysts sit at their computers for 16 hours a day. You’re spending probably two or three of those hours reading blogs, waiting for something to happen. And so you consume a ton of content during the day and then you get home at night, the last thing you want to do is pick up a book. So my idea was always how do you bring fiction into the work environment? How do you almost transform the analyst pod into a modern day book club? That was the original idea: Let’s make it an event, the same way that the girls who set their alarms for Gilt Groupe flash sales will set their alarms for this one, and then they’ll look forward to it. Because who doesn’t want something to look forward to in the middle of their work week?

Rather than trying to cram your content into people’s busy lives, why not tailor your content to fill in the cracks in the day and go from there?


  1. Undoubtedly aided by the fact that it stars two Hollywood actors — one of which just happened to win the Best Actor Oscar as the first season of True Detective was wrapping up. 

  2. It’s worth noting how much better a commercial-free environment, like HBO or Netflix, is for this content. 

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    great thought