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Will Marathon Viewing Become the TV Norm?

television setI used to watch new episodes of my favorite shows every week on television. Now I watch one show, episode by episode, in sequence and on a computer screen. Then the next show. According to New York Times reporter Brian Stelter, that's become normal:

Binge-viewing, empowered by DVD box sets and Netflix subscriptions, has become such a popular way for Americans to watch TV that it is beginning to influence the ways the stories are told — particularly one-hour dramas — and how they are distributed. [...]

On Friday, Netflix will release a drama expressly designed to be consumed in one sitting:“House of Cards,” a political thriller starring Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright. Rather than introducing one episode a week, as distributors have done since the days of black-and-white TVs, all 13 episodes will be streamed at the same time. “Our goal is to shut down a portion of America for a whole day,” the producer Beau Willimon said with a laugh.

“House of Cards,” which is the first show made specifically for Netflix, dispenses with some of the traditions that are so common on network TV, like flashbacks. There is less reason to remind viewers what happened in previous episodes, the producers say, because so many viewers will have just seen it. And if they don’t remember, Google is just a click away. The show “assumes you know what’s happening all the time, whereas television has to assume that a big chunk of the audience is always just tuning in,” said Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s chief content officer.

Television producers now have to grapple with customers who won't even start watching a series until it's over:

Some hoarders wait years: Mr. Mazzara, for instance, said he’s waiting to watch HBO’s “Girls” until the whole series is over, several years from now. This stockpiling phenomenon has become so common that some network executives worry that it is hurting new shows because they cancel the shows before would-be viewers get around to watching them.

Economist Tyler Cowen reflects on this trend and notes where immediate sequentialization does and does not work:

You can buy an entire book at once, as serialization — while not dead — has ceased to be the norm for long novels.  At MOMA they do not run an art exhibit by putting up one new van Gogh painting each day.  Coursera, you will note, still uses a kind of serialization model for its classes rather than putting up all the lectures at once; presumably it wishes to synchronize student participation plus it often delivers the content in real time.  Sushi is served sequentially, even though several cold courses presumably could be carried over at once.  Still, a plate in an omakase experience typically has more than one piece of fish.

For TV I do not think upfront bingeing can become the norm.  The model of “I don’t really care about this, but I have nothing much to talk to you about, so let’s sit together and drop commentary on some semi-randomly chosen TV show” seems to work less well when the natural unit of the show is thirteen episodes and you are expected to show dedication.

Link -via Marginal Revolution | Photo: ellenm1


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I admit to marathon watching of my favourite shows and have noticed that older shows like "Bewitched" (I've started watching it from season one and luckily have found that I can watch "Tabitha" after I finish all eight) refer to earlier episodes in hopes that you know what the characters are discussing. In the earlier days of television you could get away with that because with three channels to choose from, viewers were likely to stick with one show in the same time slot every week.
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I agree. Serialization--which can encourage very good storytelling--was difficult before modern viewing. I'd like to think that Exosquad could have secured a third season if it was aired today. And Babylon 5 would not have struggled so much to avoid cancellation.
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I think there will be room for both viewing styles, both for different people's preferences and for different kinds of content. Some shows lend themselves well to the all at once style, shows that are more moviesque, like Game of Thrones, where there is an on-going plot that's important to the series. Others lend themselves better to episode style viewing, like Pawn Stars, where there's not much of a plot that you're watching unfold and want to see it all at once. It's actually better in smaller chunks. And not just reality shows, but scripted shows,too, like sitcoms, are often better week to week than all at once. Yeah, there's sort of an overall plot sometimes that strings them together, but overall, it's not the big draw and not a big enough deal to want or need to see them back to back. And some people see some or all of their tv viewing as more of an event thing or a time-waster thing. There's going to be people and circumstances that work great for watching a full show beginning to end, like if you have friends over and have snacks and watch something for an entire weekend day. But there's other times while you're just unwinding after dinner and really only care to watch an hour long program or want to take in a half-hour show while breakfast is in the oven or before you hit the sack.
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Downton Abbey season 3 just came out... eyes are 16:9 shaped! This just fits with our instant gratification society... and I absolutely refuse to watch commercials any more; Tivo and Blu-Ray are my friends now. Having a really hard time waiting 2 more years for The Hobbit to complete... damn.
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