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.
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.
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.
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.