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Navigating Screenwriting Challenges in the Streaming Era

Screenwriting is an intimidating art form that countless aspire to accomplish at some point in their writing journey. While times constantly evolve, we’re in an unprecedented period amidst the streaming era. How did we get here, and how do we navigate screenwriting challenges today?


While there are two lenses through which to view screenwriting in a contemporary setting—from a pessimistic and optimistic point of view—there’s truth to both ends. Nevertheless, let’s discuss the history of streaming, where it’s going, how it’ll affect your writing, original ideas and franchises, and more.


Photo credit: El Output


The History Of The Streaming Era


In the past, accessing an online video meant enduring a lengthy 28-hour wait for the file to download. Fast forward to the success of Netflix, and there’s enough variation in the streaming world where there’s too much to list.


From 2021 to 2022, they witnessed various platforms' emergence and continued growth, including Paramount+, Apple TV+, HBO Max, Disney+, Peacock, Amazon Prime Video, YouTube TV, fubo TV, Sling TV, and more.


Content that was once exclusively available on Netflix and Hulu became dispersed across these additional platforms. Consequently, viewers found themselves subscribing to multiple services instead of just one or two, incurring costs they had hoped to avoid after transitioning away from cable and satellite services.


Where It’s Going


The intense competition among online platforms has compelled them to seek unique ways to stand out. One significant strategy involves providing exclusive content, often produced in-house and tailored to specific target audiences. While this approach adds a layer of differentiation in the streaming landscape, it has drawbacks for consumers and the industry.


When content is made accessible through legal streaming options, it tends to reduce piracy searches. Competition and legal availability across multiple platforms act as deterrents to online piracy. Interestingly, a higher degree of exclusivity doesn't necessarily correlate with increased overall investment in content. Investment decisions are influenced by the dynamics and types of competition within online markets.


While many will stick to the franchises they own to entice audiences (look at Disney+ with Marvel), some are transitioning to bigger-budget original films or television series to stand out. A great example is Apple and the recent releases of Killers of the Flower Moon and Napoleon, which had budgets of $200 million each.


How Does Streaming Affect Your Writing?


Part of the writer’s strike concerned syndication–selling or licensing content for publication or broadcast across multiple television stations. While an agreement was made, the initial worry was that streamed shows are unlikely to enter syndication, leading to reduced back-end royalty payments for the writers and other contributors.


This model diminishes the earning potential of writers. When the show they are contracted to work on comprises only ten episodes instead of 20 and has no prospect of syndication, writers must seek additional employment opportunities to compensate for the income shortfall.


The story's moral is to keep creating and not pigeonhole yourself with one project. While you don’t want to stretch yourself too thin, remember that the industry has a habit of taking advantage of writers and knowing your worth.


Original Ideas vs. Franchises


While Hollywood continues to rely heavily on sequels, reboots, and franchises rooted in existing intellectual property, there are indications that audiences are increasingly receptive to fresh and original concepts. Superhero franchises are doing worse at the box office than ever, indicating that the tide is shifting.


Nevertheless, original films still encounter challenges when competing with heavily marketed franchises. Screenwriters face crafting authentic stories featuring unique worlds and characters that captivate executives and resonate with the current cultural landscape.


The key lies in delivering a genuine perspective or infusing a fresh take into an established genre. When executed with precision, original films can thrive, mainly if they capture the spirit of the times. However, in the ongoing battle between original ideas and established franchises, a well-crafted concept and exceptional writing remain essential for success.


The Increase Of Television Writing


Television has become an increasingly attractive platform for top writing talent, particularly in streaming services. The surging demand for original content from platforms like Netflix, Amazon, Apple TV+, Hulu, and many others has created abundant opportunities for writers.


TV offers a unique space for writers to delve deep into characters and storylines across multiple episodes and seasons. Streaming services have also revolutionized the landscape by pushing the boundaries of subject matter and genre.


With its creative freedom and job stability, many film writers are leaping television. Television is no longer confined to smaller budgets and production values; it now boasts cinematic levels of quality, with top-notch actors transitioning to TV roles.


For screenwriters seeking consistent work, audience engagement, and creative control, television writing emerges at the forefront of the industry. However, as stated earlier, write whatever you want and try not to worry about the industry's logistics. Your art is most important.

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