The science and documentary TV format doesn’t hold up well in the age of streaming

Jessi and I just watched this episode of Megastructures, about the Gotthard Base Tunnel project, on YouTube. It’s a 36-mile train tunnel Switzerland is building under the Alps—it’ll help people and commerce move much faster than going over the mountains. It’s a pretty wild project, nearly finished, that’s taken 50 years of planning and 12 years of work. You should check it out.

This YouTube cut has no commercial breaks, but the episode was originally written, shot, and cut for TV, so the original edits and padding dialog are still there. They talk about what’s coming up “after the break,” there are fade outs and ins, and they review what was covered so far after every one or two breaks.

It’s weird enough to see commercial break edits these days in streaming shows where commercials have thankfully been removed (from the likes of iTunes Store, YouTube Red, and Hulu premium). But info-rich shows that cover science and documentaries stick out even more since they usually opt to offer post-commercial summaries at various points. It’s probably to make sure the ads didn’t wash out everything that’s been covered, or to help channel-hoppers catch up.

Regardless, the format has not aged well in a time of on-demand content, where TV commercials and ‘jumping back into the middle of a show’ basically don’t exist anymore. It feels more and more like a relic of a different time with every episode and documentary I watch.