DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg had a crazy idea: give the creators of “Breaking Bad” $75 million for an additional 180 minutes of the insanely successful meth-infused AMC drama. At the recent Cannes television conference, Mipcom, Katzenberg explained that he would release the extra footage across 30 days in six-minute installments for around 99 cents per webisode. Katzenberg hoped the experiment would prove that audiences are more than willing to pay for short-form, high-quality content.
Luckily (depending on who you talk to), after seeing the series finale on September 29, Katzenberg came to the realization that additional content would be ultimately irrelevant. Katzenberg’s very expensive experiment was diffused, and “Breaking Bad” remained free of any off-cable tampering.
What if Katzenberg’s plan had worked though?
First things first: How would the financial returns look? Given that 10.3 million people tuned into the “Breaking Bad” finale, it’s clear that the audience is there. A dollar an episode for 30 days equals $30 per household. Adding the finale numbers to that, we are looking at the somewhere in the neighborhood of $309 million dollars. Now remember that Katzenberg was offering $75 million for the extra content. Katzenberg would have doubled his investment even if a fraction of that 10.3 million paid for the extra web content.
Now for the bigger question: Would that many people have tuned in?
At first, yes. People would show up for extra “Breaking Bad” content simply because it meant more “Breaking Bad” — a show with as fervent a fanbase as any.
But a show like “Breaking Bad” needs room to breathe. There are a million variables that would dictate whether Katzenberg’s plan succeeded or failed. However, the one undeniable constant is that the AMC drama excelled when given time to stretch out episodes and develop perfect pacing from scene-to-scene, season-to-season. Six-minute installments would most likely struggle to capture that feeling.
The creators of “Breaking Bad” would be forced to write in short beats that kept people coming back. In six-minute bursts, each webisode would have to end on a cliffhanger. As much as people love “Breaking Bad,” the decay rate would shift into overdrive the moment things started to slow down. And sometimes “Breaking Bad” needed to slow down, that’s what made the show great. But whenever it did hit the brakes, it hit them within the context of an episode, which would ultimately pick back up towards the end. It was the whole viewing experience — development, conflict, resolution — wrapped into one 45-minute package.
Katzenberg’s “Breaking Bad” experiment would definitely pay for itself (and then some) at the end of its 180-minute run. But with a condensed episode structure and limited room to play with narrative, the show’s content would suffer. A huge return on investment is made, but a show’s quality declines. Can we consider that a success? I guess it depends on who you’re asking.