The Binge Watch


Much has been written about the change in media consumption, particularly the small screen. Twenty years ago, we were in the era of “appointment television” and “prime time” show slots and “lead-ins” were important to the success of a show. People had to have the opportunity to be at home and in front of a TV set in order for a show to have a chance to attract sufficient viewership to make it a success. Seasons were twenty-three or so episodes long, translating into an equivalent number of weeks. Each week, the show engaged its audience, who then had to wait another week to see the next installment. The art of the dramatic cliffhanger was at a premium to keep people coming back for more.

Fast forward to today. People can watch “TV shows” anywhere, via the magic of streaming. Appointment TV is gone, and entire seasons of shows drop on the same date. Seasons are different as well, with ten episodes (or less) becoming the norm for an annual dose of a show. Thus the “binge watch” is now a thing, with viewers devouring whole seasons of shows in a weekend or less. The streaming services have also unleashed the vaults of media companies, with the full history of television accessible to the world on demand. I can imagine people experiencing the entire runs of shows like The X-Files, or even the entire spectrum of franchises like Star Trek and CSI in short spans of time.

Game of Thrones is supposed to be the last stand of appointment TV, the final bastion of “monoculture” where the world watches an episode together and spends a week talking about what happened and what might happen. It’s the morning after watercooler conversation taken to its apex by social media. And then there are shows like GLOW, where ten 30-minute episodes are considered a “responsibility” by its creators since there is no guarantee they’ll get any more time to tell a longer story and they need to have a degree of closure after the entire season drops.

It’s an amazing time, where the ways of telling stories are evolving, and the medium of the small screen is unfettered by new channels. When the business models of the media companies reach a point where “when” is no longer as important as “how good”, and all that matters is that people can just find the art that appeals to them, new vistas are opened to storytellers and artists. It’s not that things have gotten easier, it’s that things have been democratized to an extent. Once this new model is supported by more flexible and robust financing avenues for small creators to be able to deliver their work via wide streaming, then a new age of this medium will truly begin.