The act of binging is nothing new. TV marathons have been around for ages, but thanks to Netflix and Hulu at our fingertips we’re now indulging in entire seasons to the point of potential overconsumption.
Some media outlets are beginning to expose an emerging entertainment trend suggesting consumers are exhausted by the ability to binge-watch and would prefer to wait to see what happens next. They allude to the dawn of a new era, or perhaps a reversion to a past time when TV watching was an event people looked forward to: “the age of anticipation.” This is especially apparent for dramas with a lot of cliffhangers.
What consumers miss with binge-watching is a feeling of community, of water cooler moments where people can dissect what just happened and speculate together. Consumers are also unable to think about TV show storylines in an in-depth manner when they’re speeding through them. With the freedom to watch on your time at your pace comes a loss of togetherness. Some research even indicates that binge-watching can cause feelings of depression and loneliness.
While this may be a side effect, it cannot be denied that binging is addictive and has proliferated the market, especially among technology natives like millennials and Gen Zers. What’s interesting to note is consumers are using their ability to binge as a way to discover new shows and not merely catch up on their favorites. When you hear that a show is good from multiple sources, you’re intrigued to watch for yourself.
Networks and MSO’s are taking notes. Turner is working with Comcast to make all 15 of their original programs available via on demand. Steve Meyer, vice president of video strategy and analysis at Comcast Cable, said, “The numbers suggest that people are discovering programs several weeks after they first hit linear television but want to be able to start them from the first episode.”
In October 2014, PBS digitally released the entire “The Roosevelts” series and found “most viewers used the digital availability to play catch-up with the series and then joined the linear broadcast to be part of a broader community of fans.”
Lifetime recently released the first four episodes of their newest drama, “UnReal,” to stream on demand or to download for free on iTunes directly after the premiere. Meaning, fans of the first episode were able to binge-watch the next three episodes immediately. The network gambled on potentially lower numbers for episodes 2-4 in return for word-of-mouth and hopes to turn more viewers on to the show. And, it paid off. Episodes 5 and 6 had the greatest conversations since the premiere. While some viewers were upset they had to wait three weeks until episode 5, this allowed word about the series to spread and the show to gain momentum halfway through the season.
The bottom line: the growing desire to get back to the age of anticipation means binge-watching – while still relevant – is shifting in consumers’ end goal. Binge-watching is helping people discover more quality content. It’s the networks’ decision whether they want to choose digital and linear broadcast in parallel and potentially compromise live views.