The industry has been buzzing this year about the growing sport of marathon television watching, popularly coined as binge viewing. Binge viewing is defined as consuming three or more episodes of a television series in one sitting. And like it or loathe it, the industry has to pay attention. In 2009 television series compromised 20% of Netflix online business. Three years later, Netflix has more than 23 million subscribers and TV comprises 60% of the company’s available online content. Among the most highly binge-viewed television shows on the platform, such as “Breaking Bad,” up to 85% of the series viewers tend to plow through an entire season in one sitting.
Content creators should take note. Watching a series in a condensed time period invariably changes the viewer’s relationship with the characters, or alters the carefully designed flow of a story arc. Some series are more suited for binge viewing than others; in fact, many viewers prefer to binge on shows with multiple central characters and highly complicated plots. Fans have rekindled new relationships with older series via binging, and more obscure programming has landed in the laps of entirely new audiences. A quick Internet search even provides a number of recommendations for Best Binge Drama, Binge Comedy, Binge Miniseries, and so on.
While binge viewing may be completely satisfying for many content consumers, it has content producers worried. Television’s business model is highly reliant on ad revenue, but a viewer can now record several episodes and fast-forward through the commercials, or simply avoid them altogether by watching a series on DVD, or online platforms such as Amazon Prime. Why would a company choose to purchase a commercial slot for a program whose audience prefers to hoard episodes and then binge view, commercial free? It seems a new business model will soon be required.
At present, episodic TV is structured to be savored and is supported by advertizing dollars… one episode at a time, one week at a time, one season at a time. Characters develop over years and the subtle details of plotlines unfold slowly. But just as delivery paradigms have shifted, so must the design of serial entertainment. We are watching content creators test new forms of storytelling that cater to those who prefer to inhale large blocks of content at once. Likewise, content developers are experimenting with new ways for production to continue to be supported by advertizing revenue. A new business model is brewing, but it remains to be seen whether it will unfold over a long period of time, or in a quick burst.
In the mean time, what do you binge view?