Sensationalist headlines aside, addiction has always been a part of human nature. Just look at the success of the gambling, alcohol, tobacco, sex and various other industries (I’ll leave those up to your imagination) over the course of human existence for proof. So it’s no surprise that now with all the access they want people love to binge on video content.
Stories become a big part of viewers’ lives and they subsequently want to consume video content sequentially, episode after episode. They want to feed their addiction; they are dying to find out what happens next and stay within the world the content has created for them.
However since video has traditionally been released in incremental installments, piece by piece, viewers have had to wait until the content they are craving is made available on the schedule the distributor (broadcast and cable television networks) deems appropriate.
Today this just doesn’t work! Audiences have the power and access; they can view what they want, whenever they want it. So in order to please audiences distributors need to act accordingly. But should they? Is it in their best interest to give content to viewers all at once and let them decide when to view it?
Online Video-On-Demand services like Netflix now offer viewers the ability to view all of the content in their catalogue whenever they want, and they actually push viewers into sequential viewing patterns by auto queuing episodes one after another. Not only that but with their Netflix Originals series, which they launched this year, all of the episodes from a single season are released simultaneously so viewers are free to watch as much (or as little) as they want.
Millions of people had binge viewing attacks for a few of their originals series, such as the Emmy winning House of Cards, Orange is The New Black, and the much anticipated revival of Arrested Development. Arrested Development is a great example of binge viewing as it became popular through dvd sales and file-sharing rather than it’s broadcast on Fox, which was subsequently cancelled after its third season due to low viewer ratings. Since Arrested Development’s viewers were already accustomed to viewing the series episode after episode, and the fact that the series piles in-joke atop in-joke requiring the audience to really pay attention, it only made sense to release all the episodes for the new season at once on the binge-friendly Netflix.
But with 15 episodes averaging around 35 minutes apiece, the season comes in at around 9 hours. Watching it all in one sitting can be a little cumbersome and even Mitch Hurwitz, the show’s creator, doesn’t advise attempting it; “You’ll get tired!”. While we all can’t/probably shouldn’t watch 9 hours of straight video, we nevertheless seem to want to have the ability and choice to do so (the graph below shows just how popular binge viewing has become in America).
There are still some major detractors to binge viewing and the all at once release model, and they aren’t just limited to the obviously binge adverse cable and broadcast networks. Amazon’s video-on-demand service for one, aren’t as keen as Netflix to jump on the simultaneous release train and they aren’t releasing episodes for their original series, such as the politico meets frat boy comedy Alpha House, all at once. People are also questioning Netflix about the financial implications that may come from releasing a whole season of originals content straight away.
Whether these platforms, new or old, are willing to offer simultaneous releases or not, they are going to have to get used to a changing viewing behaviour that demands more access and freedom to view on their terms. As Nielsen’s recent poles can attest, people want to binge! While there are many valid arguments for each type of content release (scheduled programming vs all at once & on-demand) audiences want it all and they want it now! The question is, how can the distributors make that work for their bottom line and keep audiences engaged over longer periods?