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Mirror of society. The series portray us

No one dares to say that serials are something new. There have always been serials in the press, comics, radio, cinema and television. Until now they had been just another product in the catalog offered by the media. But something has changed, they have become a mass phenomenon and we are trying to understand their impact on our lives.

Jaime Sebatián Lozano-January 8, 2020-Reading time: 10 minutes

"The one who watched series before was the 'freak'. Now it seems that the one who doesn't watch them is.". This comment was heard during a colloquium at the presentation of a study based on a survey made by The series observatory. This study has had repercussions in many media, and a search at Google to get to know him.

Factual data

The 2019 study was conducted in January, conducting nationwide 3,140 online interviews with participants aged 14 and older, calibrated by gender, age and social class, among other factors, to produce this report. These are some of its conclusions. 

-Seven out of ten Spaniards watch series at least one hour a day.

-More than half acknowledge that the series are "very or fairly important in their lives". In the case of young people aged 14 to 24, the percentage reaches 71 %.

-One out of every two viewers identifies with a character.

-There are many "seriéfilos" who declare that at a certain moment in their lives a character has helped them; it has become for them an aesthetic and attitudinal reference.

Stories about women are the most requested by respondents, 16.3 %, a figure that doubles in the 14-24 age group.

-The favorite genre in Spain is comedy (67.2 %).

-A third of series fans binge watch when they can. Girls under 24 are the most compulsive binge watchers. 

-Women under 34 are the group that most marathons series (67.4 %). They bet on a type of stories with long seasons and long chapters.

-Women over fifty, with children, tend more towards romantic comedy and more dramatic or historical series.

-Nine out of ten moviegoers talk about series with friends.

-Watching series on the computer is very common among young people. It would be a good idea to bet on the tablet or mobile, but they still like the computer screen. 

-Working women with children, who continue to carry the heaviest workload in the home, see them while performing other tasks, although they have found moments of rest to share with their children. 

-Up to 30 % of consumers watch them while using cell phones, chatting or interacting on social networks. 

-The behavior of people without children (up to the age of 40) is very similar to that of young people. There is not much difference between someone in their twenties and someone in their forties who has no children, as far as the series are concerned.

-The segment of women with children, which is a large percentage of society, is not the one that consumes the most series, but it does declare itself as one of the happiest segments and more at ease with life.

Couples often watch series together, but when children arrive, the so-called age of divergence begins. The relationship is less intense and each one looks for his or her own niche.

-Two out of three respondents say they stop doing other things to watch series. The first thing they stop doing is watching other TV shows. The next is to stop reading. Then they stop sleeping, and then some respondents said they stop doing nothing.

-There is no critical awareness of the amount of time series take up in our lives. In fact, 40 % admit frustration and anxiety because they would like to watch more. 

-Among the most interesting characters, the top eight are all men: from Spanish comedians such as Antonio Recio or Luisma, to drug traffickers such as Javier Rey's Sito Miñanco, or international doctors of yesterday and today. 

The sociologist Belén Barreiro, responsible for analyzing the survey data, commented that "of all the studies I have seen for many years, there is nothing that has made me learn more about people and society than the study of how series are viewed."

In the series, the referents are the characters, not the actors as in the movies, and many of them have become "examples" to follow, or have served as help and inspiration at certain times. To get an idea of the volume of this phenomenon, it is necessary to know that last year, in Spain an average of 1.2 TV series or new seasons were released every day: every day. At the moment, more than forty series are being produced in our country. Much could be said about the social impact of series. It is a transversal phenomenon throughout society. There are no great differences in consumption in the Spanish geography.

In general, it can be affirmed that series are an entertainment that unites, that does not polarize and that helps to socialize, to generate and engage in conversation. One of the frequent topics of conversation in social networks are the events and adventures of the series. This phenomenon has come hand in hand with a technological change. The fact that the Internet reaches almost everywhere, the multiplicity of screens and the viewing of series on the Internet has led to a change in the way people watch them. streaminghave changed the habits and entertainment of viewers/consumers. 

Many viewers prefer to watch programming "a la carte": watch what they are interested in, where, when and how they want. This is having serious consequences for advertising. Advertising is adapting to imaginative new ways to connect emotionally with consumers.

Imagination

Our society is the knowledge society. The great advances in science have led us to situations that were unimaginable decades ago. But this does not mean that ours is a rational society. It is possible that imagination has reinforced its role in our lives as a form of escape in a stressed world. An example of this is the productions that have to do with superheroes. No one should think that this is a teenage phenomenon. Their box-office successes in the cinema make us think of a mass phenomenon. 

As a sample The Umbrella Academy, 2019 U.S. superhero television series, developed by Steve Blackman for Netflix. It is an adaptation of the comic book series of the same name written by Gerard Way since 2007 and published by Dark Horse Comics. Its first season premiered on February 15, 2019. In April 2019, the series was renewed for a second season. It follows the estranged members of a dysfunctional family of superheroes, The Umbrella Academyborn under strange circumstances, who work together to solve the mysterious death of their father. Meanwhile, they face many conflicts due to their divergent personalities and abilities. In addition, they must fight against a threat of the apocalypse. It has been the second most watched series this year on Netflix, surpassing 45 million viewers. But if you're wondering which was the first, we're still imagining.

Stranger Things has surpassed 65 million viewers. It is a U.S. science fiction and thriller series co-produced and distributed by Netflix. It was released on the platform on July 15, 2016, with positive reviews from the specialized press, who praised the acting, characterization, rhythm, atmosphere and the clear homage to the Hollywood of the 80s, with references to films by Steven Spielberg, Wes Craven, John Carpenter, Stephen King, and George Lucas, among others. The second season premiered in 2017, and the third season in 2019: it consists of 8 episodes and features new characters. September 30, 2019, Netflix confirmed the renewal of the series for a fourth season.

The story starts during the 80's, in the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana, when a boy named Will Byers disappears, a fact that uncovers the strange events taking place in the area, product of a series of experiments conducted by the government in a nearby scientific laboratory. In addition, disturbing supernatural forces and a very strange girl appear in the city. She, along with Will's friends, will be in charge of looking for him, without imagining what they will have to face to find him. Inadvertently, they created a portal to an alternate dimension called Upside Down ("the Other Side"). The influence of Upside Down begins to affect the unknowing residents of Hawkins in a calamitous way.

Why the series captivates young and old is a subject that has been and will be discussed as a phenomenon to be studied. It seems that giving a nod to the past is an ingredient to consider, even if it is with fantasy.

With almost the same number of viewers as The Umbrella Academy a Spanish series, The paper house (44 million viewers). Produced by Atresmedia for broadcast on Antena 3and later in Netflix.

It premiered on May 2, 2017 on the Spanish network. Antena 3which distributed the first two parts of the series in Spain, before Netflix acquired it in late 2017; he edited and re-edited it, and released the two parts worldwide. On July 19, 2019, its third part was released. On April 3, 2020, the complete fourth part is scheduled for release.

The series revolves around a highly prepared assault, lasting several days, against the Fábrica Nacional de Moneda y Timbre. A mysterious man, known as "the Professor", is planning the biggest heist in history. To carry out the ambitious plan, he recruits a team of eight people with certain skills who have nothing to lose. The goal is to break into the Factory and print 2.4 billion euros. To do this, the team requires eleven days of seclusion, during which they will have to deal with elite police forces and 67 hostages.

Although the plot may seem far-fetched at the outset, it manages to grab the viewer. The characters are convincing. Each one drags his history of losers but with a certain desire to redeem himself. Sometimes their dialogues reflect values even if they are not the politically correct ones.

Based on real events

If we have already said that fantasy attracts us, it is also true that its value is precisely its contrast with reality. Precisely one of the claims of all audiovisual productions is the well-known predicate "based on real events".

A prime example of this is the series Believe me  (32 million viewers). Premiering in September 2019 on Netflix, quickly rose to stardom. Based on true events, the series is based on the prize-winning article Pulitzer by Ken Armstrong and T. Christian Miller. It focuses on the story of a young woman who is raped and who, due to the ineptitude of many and the lack of expertise and tact in this type of case, ends up being forced to say that she made it all up. Marie was 18 years old in 2008, when she is attacked in her apartment by a man who rapes her. She reports the assault to the police, who quickly drop the investigation of her case and accuse her of making a false report. 

The hardest part of the story is that the raped teenager, when she reported the assault, was pressured by police officers and questioned for some of the contradictions in her story. She was not helped by her tragic past of abuse and foster homes. She went so far as to confess that she had made it all up. However, years later, a new rape case and two detectives more consistent with her case led justice and society to ask for forgiveness from a Marie whose life had been shattered into pieces.

Beyond what is based on real facts is the story itself. The series in this aspect have a well-earned niche. There are many types, but perhaps the series about queens have been particularly successful. The clearest example is The Crownbut there are others with good results. The Spanish series Isabel is a great production at our level. The list continues with The white queen, Victoriaetc.

View critically

It has been mentioned before that one of the merits of the series is the identification of the viewer with certain characters that will accompany him throughout the various chapters. Some of them remain engraved in his retina and in his memory becoming referents. As it seems evident, these characters are not always exemplary. Moreover, in many cases the protagonists have a dubious merit: to make evil sympathetic. A paradigmatic example of this is Breaking BadThe series has had five seasons and countless awards. 

Walter White, a 50-year-old high school chemistry teacher in Albuquerque, New Mexico, learns that he has incurable lung cancer. Married to Skyler and with a disabled son, the brutal news prompts him to make a drastic change in his life: he decides, with the help of a former student, to manufacture amphetamines and put them on sale. His aim is to free his family from financial problems when the fatal outcome occurs. The plot raises a major ethical issue: the extent to which evil can be pursued in order to achieve good. Addressing these issues requires a mature and fairly critical audience. The danger of manipulation through feelings of sympathy and easy emotions is an issue that should concern us.

Examples include  Breaking Bad there are many. A superficial script can ridicule serious and responsible behavior. At the same time, it can give wings to irresponsible attitudes in key aspects of existence (family, sexuality, friendship, entertainment, work, etc.).

I think that frequent messages to viewers to watch the series with a critical sense are not superfluous. This is particularly important in a young audience, but it is not superfluous in adults. Violent, hedonistic, unsupportive, selfish, ruthless, etc. behaviors are, in general, easy to sell and abound in the market. To what extent they are harmless is a question that is not easy to delimit and has generated a multitude of controversies.

What awaits us

The supply of audiovisual entertainment products is overwhelming. Competition is only increasing and production levels are very high. The other side of the coin is not usually talked about so much: costs. The following data are a good example: Netflix disbursed 4 million per episode of Orange is the new black; 4.5 million per episode of House of cards; 8 million per episode of Stranger Things9 million per episode of Sense 8, 13 million per episode of The Crown.

Maintaining these levels of product creation involves very high costs. The budget for Netflix in content for 2018 exceeded $12 billion, of which 85 % went to produce in-house series and movies, and the remaining 15 % to buy ready-made content. Figures that no Hollywood studio can reach. Thus, the Warner produced 23 films and Netflix reached 82.

A Netflix the math doesn't always work out for him. In any case, it seems that the pie is still big. All the television in streaming (Netflix, Amazon, HBO, YouTubeThe number of channels (TV, etc.) is only 10 % of linear TV in the United States. This has encouraged the arrival of new platforms such as Disney+ y Apple TV+. The Walt Disney Companyalso known simply as Disneyis the world's largest media and entertainment company. On Dec. 14, 2017, the company announced plans to merge with multinational 21st Century Foxthe owner of the film production company 20th Century Fox and its television channels such as Fox Networks Group, FX Networks y National Geographic. Now among the subsidiaries of Disney are found: Walt Disney Pictures, Pixar Animation Studios, Marvel Studios, LucasFilm, 20th Century Fox, Fox Searchlight Pictures, Blue Sky Studios y The Muppets.

Apple TV+ was officially launched on November 1 in more than 100 countries and regions globally. It wants to win Netflix in its own game: that of original productions. The tech giant plans to make six mid-budget films each year, with the intention of generating excitement for Apple TV+ and garner Academy Award nominations. It has the support of artists and public figures such as Oprah Winfrey, Steven Spielberg, Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon and others.

All of this leads us to think of an even greater growth in the supply of series. It is also true that this may mean greater expenditure for viewers as the market becomes even more fragmented. This, like everything else, has a limit. We will see when it arrives.

The authorJaime Sebatián Lozano

jaime.seb@gmail.com

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