Breaking Patterns: How Binging Helps Appointment TV

19 September 2013 | Blog

Recently, a number of us were sitting around a conference table, waiting for a meeting to start. Inevitably, the conversation drifted to what folks were watching. One coworker guiltily confessed to having spent the entire weekend binging on a full season of “Scandal”. This opened the floodgates—“Game of Thrones”, “Mad Men”, even older shows like “Point Pleasant”. We were all doing it. Given our company’s focus on linear TV, we wondered how good an idea this was.

There’s a lot being written right now about the binge-watching tendency. AV Club, Huffington Post, IMDb, and more all offer their suggested lists for which shows to binge on. Slate raps our knuckles. On-demand services report astonishingly high numbers—MediaDailyNews  quotes “88% of Netflix users and 70% of Hulu Plus users have streamed three or more episodes of the same TV show in one day”. So should linear television be worried?

On TVBlog, Ed Martin disagrees. In “‘Breaking Bad’ Reminds Us of the True Power of TV”, he celebrates the joy of the communal experience and the thrill of the cliff-hanger. He even praises the ads:

“The commercial breaks served to intensify the growing tension and sense of impending doom that throbbed throughout the episode. In other words, watching “Bad” in that way somehow made the viewing experience richer, just as making me wait to see what happens next has me counting the hours until Sunday night. That’s a good thing.”

His argument brings us around to the second pattern that we noticed. Yes, we were all binge-watching. But in many cases, it was explicitly to catch up with a series that everyone was talking about. “Breaking Bad” was a major culprit. People who had missed earlier seasons loaded up their Netflix queues so that they would be able to watch the current season live with everyone else. A few years ago, continuity-heavy series like today’s critical darlings would be completely opaque to the novice viewer. Now, thanks to binge-watching, everyone has a chance to participate in the appointment TV events of the year. The ability to watch non-linear TV has actually increased the appeal of linear TV.