Creating Bingeworthy Title Sequences
Cannes is a wonderful place to both celebrate and examine the future of title design, an art form that’s having a resurgence and at the same time is at risk of becoming obsolete. In the past few years, stunning title sequences have captivated artists and casual viewers alike, establishing title sequences as short pieces of compelling content in their own right. Though titles are carefully crafted to support a show’s visual identity, they can also be strong enough to stand on their own as viewers share them online, removed from any surrounding episodes, and dissected by every frame for hidden meaning or possible plot clues. Some new shows like Star Trek: Discovery and American Gods are even releasing the title sequences ahead of time as a teaser for fans. Title sequences are rightfully getting a lot of praise these days, which is great.
At the same time, the rise of streaming services is shifting us to a binge-watching culture. Netflix recently introduced a 'skip intro' button, which makes bingeing even easier by letting viewers bypass the title sequence altogether. But even before the skip button, it was easy for viewers to skip even the most artful titles when they’re on their second or third episode in one sitting – they just saw the titles an hour ago, right?
Title designers are in limbo now, admired on one hand and dismissed on the other. What’s clear is that we need to adapt to this new streaming culture and rethink what title sequences can mean for a show, and how we can keep them relevant so that viewers don’t want to skip them. Titles need to be more than just pretty to look at – it’s on us to come up with new ideas to keep viewers engaged in our work.
Some shows are already following this line of thinking. Game of Thrones changes its title sequence every episode to convey specific locations on the map that are key to the episode at hand. Viewers are less likely to skip when the title sequence is sharing tangible information for that episode. (The epic music doesn’t hurt either.) Glow set the tone with a clever retro title sequence for its pilot episode, and then used a shorter version for the season’s remaining episodes. This was an interesting approach because it lends an exceptional feel to the full sequence, while still infusing subsequent episodes with those visuals in a way that viewers are less likely to skip. To a lesser extent, Westworld is also tackling this by changing its (beautiful) title sequence each season.
I think we will soon see title sequences that are more interconnected to the story, or perhaps interactive with the viewer in some way. We need to shift toward title sequences that don’t just serve as a visual representation of the show, but can also push each episode forward in a meaningful way to engage viewers and keep them from skipping over our work. As the industry gathers at Cannes to, in part, celebrate the year’s best title design, I look forward to talking about the future of our art form with creatives from around the world.
John Likens is creative director at Method. John has worked on title sequences across TV and film, with recent projects including The Night Of, Godless and Deadpool 2.