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Thursday, August 1, 2013

Binge TV Viewing

The trade press is full of stories these days about “Binge TV Viewing.” Most media specialists define binge viewing as “shutting yourself from the outside world and watching an entire season of a TV series or mini-series in a short timeframe.” Some say that binge TV viewing is transforming the way Americans and now the British watch series TV.

A few years back when the term first became prominent the fragmentary research revealed an interesting bi-modal skew to the demographics of binge viewers. It tended to be college students and people over 60. I was personally first introduced to it by a college student, home for the holidays who was watching a few seasons of “The West Wing” over several days. Today, it appears the appeal of binge viewing goes across the entire demographic spectrum.

Netflix has added fuel to the binge TV fire by releasing some excellent original series such as “House of Cards” and “Lilyhammer”. What they did differently from other media properties was releasing all episodes on the same day which some feel almost encourages binge viewing. When you return to  Netflix after an episode or two, the next episode is right there ready to begin your next viewing marathon.

Many people have written to me about how they binge. Some say that when they are sick, they like to pass the unpleasant hours with an absorbing series. A few people get in to it while unemployed. One fellow told me he watched all the existing episodes of “Law & Order” during a two month siege waiting for a job offer. Others say they prefer to watch a series all the way through rather than once a week. Some watch old mini-series--a reader in the Southwest wrote to tell me that he does a “Lonesome Dove” weekend each year where a group of friends come over, eat some Tex-Mex food and watch and discuss the famous western.

Some psychologists say that binge viewing is dangerous as people seem to be dropping out of the mainstream. My students who binge tell me they often do it with a group of 8-10 people who discuss the series at length. For them, it is a fun social event. Popular choices to binge beyond the made for Netlfix entries include “Homeland”, “Boardwalk Empire”, "Treme”, “Breaking Bad” and “Lost”. My local librarian tells me that old Masterpiece theater series are popular with the Social Security set.

Critics say that binge viewing is terrible as it ruins cliffhangers. Well, many of Dickens’ novels were serialized chapter by chapter in British magazines and often a chapter would end on a cliffhanger. It did not seem to hurt readers who years later swallowed the whole novel far more quickly (although as students many of us felt it was a boring slog). Many people say that they enjoy binge viewing as they get to watch on their own schedule. Others claim that they understand better when they binge as they have no time to forget details as they do if they must wait a week for the next episode.

Nielsen is said to be tracking binge viewing and will publish results in the future. That is fine. Whispers are that much of it is done on mobile devices. I am not sure about that especially if the binge event is also a social event.

All the noise about binge viewing (and I am part of it) to me misses the point. The key takeaway is that if you are binge viewing you are largely excluded from advertiser supported TV for a few days to a week. If you binge several times a year, it is as if you took a commercial vacation for a month or two annually.

If binge viewing gets a lot bigger, and it could, this is one more significant attack on advertiser supported TV. If you do not have the opportunity to see commercials when you do a substantial amount of your viewing, TV has to suffer as an effective advertising medium.

If you would like to contact Don Cole directly, you may reach him at doncolemedia@gmail.com

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