Insights

Exploring Opportunities for Miniseries

1 September, 2020

Miniseries are defined as having a predetermined and limited number of episodes. The story being told is concluded over the course of these episodes and does not span multiple seasons. This differs from the related format of anthology series. Anthology series such as American Horror Story or Fargo may have a self contained story arc or cast of characters within a single season but have the potential to span multiple seasons.

Generally we include miniseries in our analysis with non-limited run series. Here however we have broken out this format to see how it does in its own right.

While the miniseries format may be very specific, many types of content have made effective use of it. In particular, literary adaptations and documentaries have been well suited to the format. When adapting a book for a TV series, making a miniseries is a logical choice. A book has a definite end and so does a miniseries - there is no pressure to extend the series beyond the scope of its source material. Documentary miniseries allow for a close examination of a particular topic with no need to draw out material past the point it is interesting.

Below we show the multi-year trend in demand for miniseries. The average demand for these shows has seen a consistent upward climb since the beginning of 2018. In January 2018 the average miniseries demand was only about half that of the average overall series. However as of August 30th 2020, the average miniseries registers 1.08 times the demand of the average overall series. While this number only indicates that the popularity of the miniseries format is on par with the average TV series in general, the dramatic growth in relative popularity shows how the miniseries format has gained fans and grown to mainstream acceptance in recent years.

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Comparing the share of titles and share of demand for each genre, we can determine opportunity areas for the miniseries format.

First, it is worth noting how dominant dramas are among miniseries. While drama is the dominant genre among series in general, making up about 30% of all titles, its share of miniseries titles is vastly larger at over 60%. Documentary comes in second with about a quarter of miniseries titles. Other genres are much less common among miniseries.

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Despite drama’s dominance among miniseries, its share of demand is about even with its share of titles indicating that the genre has not overextended itself here. This actually outperforms the trend we have seen among TV series overall where drama’s demand share is below its share of titles.

Demand for documentary miniseries falls short of expectations given its second largest share of titles. This is similar to overall trends and should be understood in context. The intended audience of documentaries (particularly focused documentary miniseries) is often a smaller niche audience. Targeting these audiences, a show will not achieve the same level of demand that a broadly popular series could. Still it must be said that hit documentary miniseries do exist. The timely success of The Last Dance this year stands as an example.

Two opportunity genres stand out within the miniseries format – action/adventure and horror. While the number of miniseries belonging to these genres is currently very small, miniseries’ growing demand and broadening popularity could be an opportunity for these genres to expand and diversify the category.

In action/adventure miniseries, Watchmen was the primary driver of this genre’s popularity in the past year. Watchmen was the most in-demand miniseries in the past year. Not only was this series popular, it is also critically acclaimed, nabbing the most Emmy nominations of any series this year. It remains to be seen whether the success of Watchmen here will pave the way for more action/adventure miniseries.

Among horror miniseries, the adapted books of Stephen King have an outsize impact. IT, Salem’s Lot, and Bag of Bones are all popular horror miniseries driving high demand for this small genre. The much anticipated Stephen King adaptation, The Stand, coming to CBS All Access this year will almost certainly grow the horror miniseries genre to new levels.

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