We should fight the urge to “skip intro”

TV show titles can be iconic.

From the swirling clouds of chemical mist revealing the periodic table in Breaking Bad to the turning cogs of power in Westeros and the partially animated adventures of Don Draper descending on Maddison Avenue, the opening sequences of TV shows visually – and often crucially, musically- are there to set the mood for the show we’re about to watch. An amuse bouche if you will, to tantalise our television taste buds and excite our senses before today’s menu is presented to our eyes.

Moving away from the culinary metaphors, TV titles are often pieces of art in their own right – and as someone who has been professionally watching television for 15+ years, and a fan of the medium since I first saw Doctor Who on a black and white Bush 10 inch TV in the early eighties, I know they are an important part of shows.

It was only last night I was watching the excellent Bad Sisters on Apple TV+ and noted just how spectacular the first few seconds of the opening titles were – that was of course before as a reflex I hit the “skip intro” button. How very depressing for the genius professional television titles creator and musicians behind this masterful work. But if I’m doing it, someone who doesn’t want to do it, what hope for this art form as a new generation grows up never having watched the titles in the first place?

According to the director of product innovation at Netflix, Cameron Johnson, writing earlier this year about the skip feature the streaming giant pioneered around six years ago, this button “is pressed 136 million times, saving members an astonishing 195 years in cumulative time!”

So it seems like I’m not alone in missing the titles, then.

Interestingly, Johnson says that the development of the feature was actually a response to data at Netflix that showed that a significant number of people were manually searching forward in the first few minutes of shows (presumably to skip the intro). The skip button was designed to allow people to do this smoothly without missing important sequences from the show which they may have fast-forwarded through themselves.

Not only did they make it – it’s been a hit, as Johnson explains: “Our simple idea had huge engagement from members (with Skip Intro the best performing name) and lots of love on social media. As one engineer put it, ‘I’m not sure that if you put a button that said ‘free cupcake’ that it would get more clicks than Skip Intro.'”

Of course since Netflix introduced the button, it has become fairly standard across all streaming services, meaning you can now miss the brilliant titles of TV shows from Disney+ to Apple TV+ and beyond.

And as much as I understand “skip” solves a problem for some users, especially bingers who want to watch ten episodes in a row without the repetitive titles getting in their way, I do feel like it is training us to dismiss the titles out of hand. Furthermore, these titles contain the theme tune and imagery that bonds not only us as viewers to the show but gives a colour palette and soundtrack to our collective experience.

The Friends theme tune evokes emotion in everyone who knows it, you can’t unsee the title sequence to Westworld, even that mumbling murmur and floating LOST on-screen readies us all to go back to the island – and without these things, I believe we viewers, and television, in general, is worse off.

Why are we in such a rush to consume content? Isn’t it meant to be a leisure activity, not a race to consume as much as possible as fast as possible? Please, let us not talk about watching TV on 1.5x to try to binge it quicker.

Surely if skipping as a habit keeps growing (and it will because it is advertised on screen and becomes a reflex) then the days of TV titles (or at least good ones that cost time and money) are numbered. Let’s use them before we lose them.

So from now on, I’m going to do my bit and fight the urge to press skip.

Give it a try, you might find you enjoy the show more.

Tim Glanfield

Tim Glanfield is a journalist, editor and broadcaster with more than 15 years experience writing about television, film and the entertainment business. He has been editor of RadioTimes.com, a writer for The Times (of London) and the Guardian as well as a freelance contributor to newspapers, magazines and websites across the world. He is author of the book Digital Economy or Bust: The Story of a New Media Startup and makes regular appearances on TV and radio in the UK.

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