An ancient way of viewing may be more common than Netflix lets on
Jeff Bewkes has given me the courage to come out of the closet.
Defying the buzz Netflix has generated for its innovative release strategy for “House of Cards,” the Time Warner CEO told the Deutsche Bank Media, Internet & Telecom Conference that HBO is going to stick to scheduling the old-fashioned way. “We don’t want to put it up all at once, we want the water cooler effect,” he said.
Finally, someone in power sticking it to binge watching. It’s emboldened me to make a shameful confession: It’s taken me 32 days to finish all 13 hours of “Cards.”
It’s tough to admit wanting to watch “Cards” at my own leisurely pace given all the hype that has attended Netflix distributing all episodes of its first season at once.
But hype is not data, and the absence of the latter reinforces my suspicion that a new breed of viewer may have emerged but isn’t necessarily running rampant. And what’s more, maybe Netflix knows this yet has its reasons for staying quiet.
What if there are many more people out there like me who don’t want to watch hour upon hour in quick succession–perhaps even a silent majority who outnumber these newfangled marathoners?
Maybe we just need to figure out a new spin on our antiquated ways to make it seem cool.
From here on in, please refer to us old-timers as practitioners of tantric TV. Sure, the Kama Sutra adopted this ancient Buddhist principle with the purpose of longer-lasting sex. But with apologies to Sting, the practice’s unwitting evangelist, tantric can also be applied to TV.
Netflix CEO Reed Hastings might see the traditional weekly installments of TV scheduling as a vestige of a dying, advertising-dependent industry. Maybe so, but adherents of tantric TV derive deeper satisfaction from old-fashioned, periodic consumption of “Cards” than from binge-watching.
This is no knock on “Cards.” It’s not that the drama isn’t good enough to encourage binge-viewing. To the contrary, an episode of a show this well-produced leaves me with a feeling of satisfaction akin to a Thanksgiving dinner: I enjoyed it so much that I can’t eat another bite. I just want to sit back and savor it for a while.
It’s classic tantric: Spacing out the enjoyment of a program as long as possible for maximum, um, pleasure.
But tantric tune-in is driven just as much by extrinsic necessity as intrinsic value. Even if I was gripped by the urge to splurge on 13 consecutive episodes of “Cards,” the truth is, I rarely have time to sit in front of a screen for more than a few hours. My child needs tending, an article needs writing, the garbage has to be taken out. Life intrudes.
Which begs a question: Would more Netflix subs relate to my lifestyle or to the kind of consumer who polishes off “Cards” in a few extended sittings? When it comes down to hard numbers, there’s no proof tantric TV viewers are the minority.
You binge watchers might think you’re ubiquitous because you’re so taken with your progressive media habits that you can’t stop talking about it via social media or in the press. But that amplification may distort just how big a trend they really represent.
Perhaps the binge occurs only on the fringe.
Surely Netflix knows the truth. The company loves to talk about how closely it follows its audience data…almost as much as it loves not sharing that data outside its doors.
Sure, Netflix execs can be counted on to part the kimono for a millisecond every once in a while, like that doozy last year about the 50,000 subs who binged on an entire season of “Breaking Bad” in one day. It’s that kind of carefully chosen morsel that helps Netflix cultivate a reputation as a haven for some new breed of media consumer.
But Netflix has never given any indication of just how pervasive binge viewing is on its platform. And maybe there’s a savvy rationale behind that.
Perhaps tantric TV viewing is far more common than binge viewing on Netflix but the streaming service doesn’t want anyone to know that. It’s not that tantric TV isn’t good for Netflix’s business; it’s actually better than binge-viewing because the latter model’s accelerated usage increases the risk of subscriber churn. In tantric TV mode, subs will stick around longer and make more monthly payments precisely because they’re consuming slower.
But even if it’s less conducive to profits, binge viewing makes for a great marketing gimmick. Here’s this style of watching that offers justification for the full-season release strategy that is the company’s whole point of differentiation in the marketplace. That’s a sexier notion than what might very well be the reality of predominant Netflix consumption, which may not look all that different than how people watch garden-variety TV. So Netflix could be promoting the binge but quietly milking the tantric all the while.
So keep an eye out for those tantric TV watchers. Not only might we be legion, but contrary to its public posture, Netflix may know this all too well.