Why Everything You Know About Binge-Viewing Is Wrong

Breaking Binge

Multi-episode viewing is more complex than it seems — and therein lies an opportunity

Among the triggers for the the incredible ratings leap AMC’s acclaimed drama “Breaking Bad” made last week has to be Netflix, where the uninitiated can catch up on all the previous episodes they missed going back to the series’ beginning.

Perhaps some of them hoping to binge-view their way through at least one season may find themselves in circumstances similar to my own last year. My plan was to plow through 13 episodes in just a few days, like so many bragged via social media about doing.

But when I sat down to watch, the series’ dark tone overwhelmed me. I couldn’t stomach more than one episode at a time, so it took me weeks to catch up. Great as the show is, bingeing on crystal meth itself would have been easier than getting through mass quantities of “Breaking Bad.”

Time and again, I hear of people polishing off a tonnage of TV time in a matter of days that takes me much longer to complete. It makes me wonder whether there’s two separate breeds of bingers: We’re both deviating from the typical week-by-week episodic allotment of live TV, but one type is engaging in marathon viewing sessions while the other spreads a smaller dosage across a greater number of days.

SEE ALSO: How Binge-Viewing Could Rock Netflix Stock

But for all the talk about binge-viewing, there’s so little nuance to the discussion that these two completely different behavior patterns are lumped together like they’re the same thing.

That would be like treating a catnap and a coma interchangeably because, well, they’re both just sleeping, right?

Maybe it’s time to get some new lingo going. Those marathon viewers? Maybe we should say they “gorge.” Slower movers like me … how about “splurge”? Better this than a vague catch-all term evocative of eating disorders.

Sorting out what exactly constitutes binge-viewing isn’t merely an academic argument. Grasping multi-episode viewing patterns could have consequences for establishing business models that reflect the new realities of video consumption just beginning to take shape.

SEE ALSO: Netflix Flexes New Muscle with ‘Breaking Bad’ Ratings Boom

Who’s to say a streaming service with a more sophisticated understanding of such habits can’t come to market with a more nuanced pricing plan that keys in on these different consumer behaviors and gives each of them more for their money.

A viewer like me, for instance, might ultimately produce more revenue by being charged a small fee each time I watch a season instead of a higher lump sum for a month in which I rarely watch anything else, thus making me a churn risk.

Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime may think they have everything figured out already, and maybe the monthly all-you-can-watch buffet really is the most compelling proposition. But it’s still early days in digital content. And there’s a massive unexplored middle ground between the standard SVOD model and the transaction per title of an iTunes or a Vudu.

SEE ALSO: Netflix to Expand Beyond Series Into Original Documentaries, Stand-Up Comedy Specials

It could be the companies that already appreciate the value of creative bundling — pay-TV distributors — who figure this out first. Maybe laying back while the first movers do the experimenting for them will turn out to be an advantage.

Or perhaps the innovation will come from those anachronistic broadcast networks, which may find that double- or triple-pumping episodes each night instead of doling them out in weekly installments makes more sense. Maybe entire seasons of content that took 13 or 22 weeks will in the future run start to finish in a matter of days.

Or maybe one of the current SVOD players will change its ways. Is the monthly free-for-all really the smartest business model or is it really just the best starting point for testing how watchers watch. When there’s enough data, those models could be adjusted.

Yes, Reed Hastings has pretty much backed Netfl ix into a corner by repeatedly asserting his fidelity to the $7.99 monthly model. But maybe one of its competitors could gain by trying something different.

Regardless of who steps up, moving this marketplace forward requires getting beyond our simple understanding of binge-viewing.

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  1. Angie Mee says:

    This is an interesting view but the reality is these customers are a hard nut to crack. It’s the equivalent of a ‘pay as you go’ customer, who is fickle and will only stay as long as he/she likes the series and not explore other shows on offer in the slate. SVOD platforms favour the returning customer, continuous revenue stream and overall make more revenue than VOD alone. However both ends of the spectrum could offer more customer choice so worth a try if the licenses allow which is another conversation for the studios.

    • Harry Hawk says:

      Angie, you make great points about SVOD… That said building relationships is tough.and clearly a lock-in for consumers, and any contract all add to stability for the sellers but they don’t lead to customer happiness. I would like to see a testing of upfront pre-sales with consumers. Test on a series first…

      Consumers would commit to a season with ads or pay per series, Etc. Consumers would provide their demographic data so that the advertisers have a solid idea who is watching. It isn’t 1:1 targeting but advertisers get access to who is subscribed, Etc. For subscribing EARLY consumers get early access to shows, get to watch anywhere, Etc.

      It’s emotional and time commitment buy in by consumers and also maybe financial buy in as well. Imagine the level of people and interest Joss Whedon or Andy Cohen could attract for their respective categories.

      Pick a test category (Reality wives show, reality contest, science fiction, police procedural, Etc) and get consumers to buy-in (let them in on the pilots, the casing, crowd source some of the notes, Etc.) and then one of shows is selected for production. The level of emotional buy-in is going to be higher than some new show no one has heard of.

  2. Harry Hawk says:

    You are correct that we all “eat” TV at different rates.. and editing techniques used to keep viewers from changing channels during commercial breaks can be overpowering when you binge view the same content with fewer or no commercial breaks, ditto for episode ending cliff hangers.

    I would suggest that before we figure out how to get more money out of viewers, programmers first figure out how to have a meaningful relationship with them. Through AC Nielsen networks know me statistically but they have never tried to get to know me personally, to communicate with me, to listen to me and to encourage me to like, love or watch more of their programming.

    When you talk about nuanced pricing plans most plans if not all, leave out a direct relationship between viewer and producer/show runner or even network. Apps like HBO 2 Go have “series passes” but there isn’t anyway today to “subscribe” to “The Dome,” “America’s Got Talent,” ABC’s Fall season or the final season of “Breaking Bad.”

    Programmers complain about fickle audiences and time shifters but fundamentally fail at trying to foster a relationship with the viewers E.g., their customers. I have a better, deeper and more valued relationship with LL Bean and Publishers Clearing House than I do with NBC and HBO.

    Harry Hawk
    Future of TV and Advertising
    @hhawk

  3. My first TV binge—Sopranos, the second was B. Bad. July 11 2013 I started a new one–Game of Thrones. Arrested development is next. My state of mind is all about the TV!!

  4. KAS says:

    I found myself trying to catch up on Breaking Bad, from the very beginning.

    Most of this viewing was done late at night. So I found that I was watching throats getting cut, and guys getting shot… Then time for sleep. A bit disturbing.

    Also, watching more than one episode didn’t give me time to reflect on a single episode. So I would watch one, and spend the next day thinking about every detail. – Much more enjoyable than a marathon viewing, just to cram the episodes in.

    But now I’m all caught up on Breaking Bad. And I do think Hank seems a bit pissed these days…

  5. mattheww says:

    Remember when watching TV was the thing you felt guilty about doing because you were doing it instead of getting to all the things you *should* be doing? You weren’t reading books or staying in touch with old friends or getting in shape or cleaning or fixing up your home or developing new interests because you were so tired at the end of a long work day that all you had the energy to do was watch stupid TV.

    Well now even TV wants to make us feel guilty? TV wants to become another important life experience we’re too wiped out to make time for? TV wants me to feel bad about myself for not watching more of it? TV? TV??

    The world has gone to hell.

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